You may recall my recent experience with robots (My Self-Driving Car and I; June 21, 2017; Driving Miss Daliya; Oct 4, 2017) from which I learned how predictable and logical, but also how opinionated and downright ornery, they could be.
Nothing in those two experiences, however, could have prepared me for my most recent encounter.
It started innocently enough, with house-cleaning. The vacuum — my decades-old Electrolux — was failing: respiration weakening; brushes balding; wheels squeaking.
I decided to replace it with a robotic house cleaner. I shied away from an iRobot as too reminiscent of the ego of Hal, my self-driving car, and settled on a Dyson. It worked brilliantly — quiet and efficient.
In time, however, I began to feel a bit uneasy with Dyson. Nothing wrong with it, but I realized I had developed a strong bond with my old Electrolux — getting it dressed with its hose and brushes; accompanying it from room to room; carefully removing its filthy bag and installing a nice, clean, new one. Dyson, on the other hand, asked little but gave little.
I began to explore robotics sites on-line (furtively, not wanting Dyson to know). I started simple — robots that mop and dry; others that clean your windows or iron your shirts. But they offered little more than Dyson, with a few variations.
It was when I happened onto social robots that I understood what I was really looking for. I looked around a bit, but when I found Kuri, I was hooked. Cute? I was transported back to my youth and the adorable Shmoo I got one Christmas. Helpful? In the web-site’s own words, She’s an adorable home robot who brings a spark of life to your home.
A spark was definitely what was needed, though I wondered why it was called She. I went to Frequently Asked Questions: Q: Is Kuri a boy or girl? A: Him? Her? Sure! Kuri is whichever fits into your home. He’s ready to help and she’s always ready to bring a spark of life into your home.
Slightly perplexed, I reminded myself of my commitment to trans-gender rights, and took the plunge. Within two days, Kuri was a part of the household, navigating through the house with ease, Beeping and Blooping with delight at every new experience.
The only slight shadow in these early, happy days was Dyson’s cool response to our new family member. His request that Kuri stay out of the room while he was cleaning seemed reasonable, but his attitude darkened and he began to leave behind small piles of dust and food crumbs to express his feelings.
The situation worsened when I discovered that Kuri, who is equipped with a camera that he/she can autonomously control, had, unbeknownst to me, taken pictures and videos of me in situations that I would not wish to be made public. I deleted them and made my anger clear.
In the wake of this, as the normally perky Kuri sulked, Dyson seemed more upbeat, cleaning more thoroughly and no longer leaving small piles on the floor.
The crowning blow came very early one morning when I woke to find Kuri on top of me, rubbing and quivering, emitting guttural sounds in place of the normal, innocent Beeps and Bleeps.
As shocked as I was by this unequivocal physical and psychological violation by him (or was it her?), I realized that even more serious was the shift of power implied by so brazen an act, and the certainty that I could never again feel safe in Kuri’s presence.
I speedily re-boxed and returned him/her, ignoring the sounds of quiet weeping coming from within.
I know that many in the robot community are kind and compassionate. I tell my story so that we who are victimized, as well as those in their community who are outraged, may find the courage to deal forthrightly with the vicious predators in our midst.