Saturday, March 9, 2013

Things Robots Should Not Do

Technology advances so rapidly and so pervasively that it’s a challenge for retirees to keep up. One example: robots are increasingly common in our lives, often in ways we aren’t aware of. I’m on board with letting these unmanned machines do more for us, especially mundane chores such as vacuuming and cleaning the litter box (as long as the cat isn’t in it). But there are some things that, in my opinion, they just should not do.

A recent New York Times article questioned robotic hysterectomies, based in part on a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Upon closer reading, I learned the article wasn’t so much questioning the use of robots to perform hysterectomies. It was noting that the outcomes were not more favorable than for laparoscopic ones, and therefore didn’t justify the considerable extra cost.

The last item on my list of things I’d welcome having a robot do is my hysterectomy. This got me thinking: What other procedures or chores would I not want to entrust to a pile of nuts, bolts, solenoids and sensors (or whatever stuff bots are made of)? It didn’t take me long to come up with a sizable list.

There’s no way I’d let an android clean out my earwax. For sure, I’d wind up looking like someone from a Steve Martin skit, but with a cotton swab sticking out from each side of my head instead of an arrow. Likewise, I would not recommend letting mechanical grabbers try to retrieve bellybutton lint. Well, not if you’re an innie anyway. The outies can decide for themselves.

Along similar lines, I really can’t picture a bot flossing my teeth. With all my caps and fillings, I have so many cracks and crevices that I have trouble getting around in my own mouth. A robo-flosser would surely get tied up in knots. I can see it running amok, trying to untangle its pincers, digging its back claws into my tongue. No thank you. I’ll keep doing my own flossing and my dental hygienist will keep thanking me for it.

My eyesight gets worse each year, making me feel like I’m becoming my mother. There’s an entire post in there somewhere, but right now I’m reminded that she had me do her eye makeup when she was older. She found it difficult to navigate the narrow space between her glasses and her eyelids, especially since everything is backwards in a mirror. If I wore eye shadow, I might let an android apply that. But there’s no way I’d let it put on mascara. I’m a blinker and I’d have raccoon eyes for certain.

Moving into a different arena, you’d have to be crazy to let some bionic dude fill out your Medicare forms. Or any health-related or government paperwork for that matter. You can bet that the software controlling it would get hacked by the Chinese or by a former Starbucks employee. Next thing you know, you’re thrown in jail—or committed to a mental hospital—while your assets are drained into an offshore account.

We’ve been hearing a lot about drones lately. Last week an Alitalia pilot reported seeing a small, black one below his plane as he was approaching JFK airport. The story hardly made a blip on the news. I thought a drone like that could be a good way to wash my upstairs windows. Then I remembered Google Earth’s cameras. It’s unnerving to think what a window-washing snoop might photograph once it removed the grime.

I suppose I could let a robot tidy up my sock drawer, but it would take a lot of programming to replicate the logic behind how I organize colors. It hardly seems worth the effort. When you consider all the downsides, there aren’t many things automatons should do in our daily lives. And there are plenty of things they most definitely should not do. Writing my blog is one of them. An electronic clone wouldn’t have my charm, my wit, my humor, my (fill in the blank).

I might trust one to open a bottle of wine for me once my post was written; but with my luck, the doppelganger would share my appreciation for the grape. The wine rack would be empty before I knew it. The bot would be careening around the house, corkscrew in claw, bumping into furniture and scaring the cat out of eight of his lives.

No. That’s one more thing robots should not do. I’ll open my wine myself. On that note…

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