by Becca Zwick
There will eventually be a day when I hear my doorbell ring and answer it to find a robot standing in front of me, holding a package. I have no doubt that at some point in time, this will be an unremarkable and mundane occurrence, and robots will be functioning around us all over in society. But there will still be the first time a robot is waiting on my stoop.
I don’t want to say I’m scared of robots; I’m a fan of keeping up on what the Boston Dynamics team is doing, and I love animatronics. However, I also watched Westworld at an impressionable age. I have no doubt that no matter how friendly the robot at my door is, my thoughts will only be of a malfunctioning Yul Brynner.
This particular delivery robot knows where I live now, and if it’s smart as the robots of my nightmares are, it will probably be able to sense my fear and trepidation at interacting with it. Years later, during the inevitable robot takeover of Earth, this robot will remember me and my fear, and will come looking for me. In this fantasy, I haven’t quite figured out what happens next, but I imagine I will be labelled a traitor under the new rule and be subjected to robot prison and punishment.
Dystopian paranoia aside, the biggest problem in this scenario I’ve created for myself is that, if these robots are capable of thoughts and feelings, then as a people pleaser, I would need them to like me. Judging by how many times I compliment my Google Home, my need for everyone to think I’m a good person does extend to AI.
When I’m eventually faced with a delivery robot, do I make conversation with it? The regular delivery drivers in my hometown knew the names of everyone in the family, how old we all were, even came to graduation parties. I’ll want to do my best to make the robot feel accepted in the workforce. Should I invite it in for a charge? Or will it just use that opportunity to turn all my electronics against me?
Realistically, I imagine my first robot delivery experience will be one of those driving boxes that look like mouse droids from Star Wars, operated by someone with an RC controller far away. I’ll probably think it’s really neat, and kinda cute. I’ll try to wave into the camera. I know the box can’t feel or have an opinion on me, but the person driving it can.
Perhaps the least interesting possibility is actually the worst of all. If the robot is just cold and unfeeling, programmed only to deliver and not to take over the world at all, will I be offended when the robot simply drops my package and leaves? Would I be more hurt that something I’m paranoid will have feelings, doesn’t feel at all? Or will I just be disappointed that something as wild as having a package delivered by a robot isn’t that exciting at all.