I recently read an Associated Press story on how people are forming emotional attachments with their robots. The robot mentioned in the story was the Roomba, which is a vacuum cleaner developed by iRobot Corp.
Here is the lead from that story:
They give them nicknames, worry when they signal for help and sometimes even treat them like a trusted pet. A new study shows how deeply some Roomba owners become attached to the robotic vacuums, and suggests there’s a measure of public readiness to accept robots in the house – even flawed ones.
This story deals with human behavior, technology and love – a perfect topic for one of my columns. So I contacted iRobot and asked to speak with one of its spokespeople. I spent almost two weeks trying to make this happen. I even e-mailed my questions and asked a representative from the company to write me back.
All of my requests were rejected.
The media relations representative for iRobot wrote:
I received your questions and although this would make for a fun article, the iRobot team has declined to participate. I’ll be sure to keep you abreast of new product announcements and let you know if things change in the near future.
The first word that popped into my head when I read that was “cowards.” So many corporations are so spineless. It amazes me that people actually fear big business. But that’s a whole other column.
I wrote back:
I am sorry to hear that no one from iRobot will speak with me. This would have been a fun piece and I think it would have showed iRobot is hip and has a sense of humor. Clearly that is not the case. It appears to me that iRobot refuses to laugh. It refuses to enjoy existence. Almost like — a real robot. I can only conclude that the company is now run by a robot and that your spokesrobots are afraid I will expose them for what they are — humanoid beings with internal battery organs, blinking light eyes and monotone voices who lack the ability to enjoy life and want to punish humans for our irrational emotion-feelings by taking control the world.
Do NOT keep me abreast of new product announcements. Your incremental steps toward world domination need not flood my in-box.
May God have mercy on your souls.
Below I have listed the questions that iRobot refused to answer. (The * indicates that the question was written by my brother Dan, who is a hilarious human writer.) Tell me this would not have been a fun interview.
Why do you think people have formed such personal attachments to their Roombas?
What are some of the ways that people have personalized their Roombas?
Do you have a Roomba? What is its name?
Isn’t iRobot’s Roomba just a low-tech rip-off of Rosie from The Jetsons? Have Hanna-Barbera’s lawyers contacted you yet?
Can the Roomba feel love?
* Do you have any tips for how NOT to fall in love with a Roomba?
Was the first Roomba constructed by a horribly disfigured scientist working alone in his abandoned castle?
How do you think robots 1,000 years from now will react when they discover they were descended from vacuum cleaners?
* Is there some sort of large, drone-bearing Mother Roomba that we need to be worried about?
* Can you feed your Roomba after midnight?
Have you ever had a Roomba turn against its human master like the first law enforcement robot from Robocop?
Just so we are clear, the settings on the Roomba do NOT include Human Extinction or Global Domination. Is that correct?
Since no one at iRobot spoke with me, I can only speculate on the robot-human attachment. So here’s my take. Human beings form attachments with everything. I have a friend with a deep emotional attachment to Diet Coke. I have another friend who has an emotional attachment with the worst franchise in sports history, the Cincinnati Bengals. I myself had a deep emotional attachment with a 1991 Buick LeSabre.
These are all healthy attachments because all of these things in some way bring joy into our lives. Especially that LeSabre. It was like a couch on wheels. I miss that car.
So that’s my theory. People can love anything. Robots qualify as anything. Therefore people can love robots.
If you sense a little disappointment in my writing voice, iRobot, it is because I have the capacity to smile and laugh and love and hurt and cry. That is something you and your uber-rational sentinels will never comprehend. So go ahead. Enslave the human race. Send us down to work in your robot mines where we will dig for robot gold for your robot king. I will still pity you. Because you will never know what it is to feel joy or pain, you heartless, soulless bastards.