Friday, January 09, 2009

More Troubling Robot Evidence

My friend Perry is the handiest guy I know. He’s a carpenter who completely rebuilt our kitchen and one of our bathrooms, installed our new driveway, and built a new porch on the side of our house.

Yesterday we were helping a friend move and in between moving boxes and furniture, Perry completely disassembled a wobbly desk and put it all back together again, solid enough to be used as a foundation block, should the need ever arise.

He’s also apparently pretty smart. He once beat a poet, a playwright, a librarian, and my wife (the eventual owner of 3 graduate degrees) at a word game called Anagram. This prompted my wife to say “Gee, you are the last person I would have thought would win this game.” Thus, in just one comment, Perry received a lifetime of ammunition with which to embarrass my wife, which he does with glee every time we decide on a game to play. He's also the one with the brains not to let me use a backhoe.

Despite Perry’s obvious mechanical skill, comic wit, and raw brain power, we discovered something Perry can’t do: Get out of a van with a mechanical door handle.

Most vans these days come with that automatic door handle thingy, where you press a button and it automatically opens or closes the door. My ancient 2003 Dodge Caravan does not have one of these, prompting small children and old people to look helplessly around for where to open the door. In their defense, it is a big press-button thing, rather than a proper door handle, and is hard to press in. It’s not quite like turning the crank under the hood to get the car started, but it’s the modern day equivalent.

Anyway, Perry was unable to figure it out by himself. We had to show him the button, which he pressed as if it would open automatically. When it didn’t, he seemed at a loss for how to get out of the van. We had to tell him it was manual rather than automatic but he was still unable to press it in far enough to open the door. I was reminded of Scotty in Star Trek IV, who was told to use the mouse to tell the computer what to do, so he spoke into it.

The purpose of this is not to embarrass Perry because he was unable to exit my van without assistance (or at least it is not primarily about that). No, my purpose here is to sound the alarm bells once again: Robots are conditioning us to become helpless. It will be easy to wrest control from us when the time comes if even Perry can’t use a mechanical device without automation support. That, or Perry has already joined their side, which would be very bad news for us all.


brownie said...

Transparent aluminum?

Dan S said...

"How do we know he didn't invent the thing?"