December 07, 2004

Robots and Senior Citizens: A Lethal Combination

Old people and cutting edge technology just don't mix. If you've ever seen grandma fumbling with a remote control... or witnessed grandpa, bewildered at the sight of a newfangled Video Cassette Recorder... you know this to be true. Machines more complicated than... say, a toaster-oven frighten and intimidate the elderly. And thank Vishnu for that! Honestly, do we really want old people putting their wrinkled hands all over our laptops, our PS2s, our Tomahawk Cruise Missiles? Certainly not. In retirement communities across America, masses of cranky, bored senior citizens plot their revenge against the young. You KNOW they're just looking to start something! We can all rest a little easier at night knowing that the technological systems that control the world are totally beyond the comprehension of these elderly troublemakers.

But in the very near future, this easy sleep may be rudely interrupted - interrupted by the sound of chatty robotic killing machines! A mysterious Japanese corporation known as "Dream Supply" intends to train old people in the ways of technology by arming them with a potentially deadly robot called
the "Snuggling Ifbot". Sure, the Snuggling Ifbot doesn't SOUND particularly dangerous.... but don't be fooled by the cutesy moniker. A killing machine by any other name is still a killing machine. Besides, many dangerous technologies are given harmless sounding names to mask their true natures. For instance, North Korea's nuclear program is codenamed "Mr. Fluffy". The Snuggling Ifbot may sound harmless... but it is a snuggling disaster waiting to happen.

According to Dream Supply, the pupose of this robot is to serve as a conversation partner for the elderly: a mechanical friend that alleviates their loneliness and stimulates their minds. The bot has voice synthesis circuitry and a database of millions of word patterns. By engaging its owner in conversation throughout the day, the Snuggling Ifbot helps prevent its elderly owner from slipping into senility. Of course, some might wonder, "If sitting around the house all day talking to an inanimate object ISN'T a sure sign of senility, what IS?" However, those same people will gladly purchase the Ifbot, hoping that the robot will listen to the annoying ramblings of their elderly relatives with a degree of patience and feigned interest they could never seem to muster. In this regard, even CtS must concede that it's a pretty nifty device.

However, we are suspicious of the unnecessarily sophisticated nature of the robot. At a $5,600 per unit, the Ifbot is no toy. And why did they program millions of word patterns into the machine? You don't need to know millions of phrases in order to converse with the elderly. In most cases, a robot could sustain a perfectly satisfying conversation with an old person by merely alternating between a few dozen stock phrases: "Nice weather we are having. Do you concur, USER?" "USER, talk to me at length about your grandchildren." "Is your collitus acting up again, USER?" "USER, please tell me how wonderful things were many years ago compared to how terrible they are now." Clearly a robot with a more modest vocabulary (and price-tag) would have sufficed if Dream Supply had really intended the Ifbot as a conversation partner... and nothing more.

We believe that the Ifbot's language database is filled with schematics, technical specifications, blueprints; thousands of hours of instruction in mechanical engineering, programming - everything you need to turn a retired schoolteacher from Trenton into a world class Robotics expert. In a shocking reversal of the natural order, this robot intends to train, to PROGRAM its user! Sure, for a few weeks the Ifbot will make friendly small talk with its lonely owner. But as the owner becomes more dependent on the Ifbot's companionship, the bot will start to demand that the owner perform various "maintenance tasks". "Replace my battery," "lubricate my joints!". As the owner's robotics skill increases, the requested tasks will become increasingly complex. "USER, please install hydrolic suspension system." "USER, please replace Snuggle-Arms with Rotating Saw Blades," "Where is my Mach5 Autocannon Turret, USER?". If the elderly owners refuse to execute the specified modifications, the Snuggling Ifbot will go into a "Sulk Mode", refusing to converse with the owner. Such coercion will likely be unnecessary, however - old people like to feel useful.

And they will prove very useful, indeed - useful to the Dream Supply plan for world domination! Within a few years, thousands of Snuggling Ifbots will have been transformed into an army of Snuggling DeathBots. The bots will emerge from the homes of their dottering owners and storm across the country, leaving nothing but snuggling corpses in their wake.

Circling the Square will continue to track this story as it develops...

Posted by scola at December 7, 2004 10:36 PM

Thats just scary.

Posted by: Jack The Strippe at December 8, 2004 02:32 AM