Kate and the Robot Butler

Yesterday, Kate (who’s on Spring Break from grade school) came into my office in the afternoon to ask for a favor. She said there was a “build your own robot” kit on Ebay that she really wanted and could I bid on it for her. “It’s only 99 cents and no one has bid on it yet.”

I said, “How do you even know about Ebay?”

Kate said, “I have my ways,” and gave me a smart assed smirk. Ah, my parenting at work.

Intrigued, I went to Ebay and found the item she was talking about. It turns out she had gone to Ask Jeeves and followed a link to Ebay. And the “kit”, which Kate thought was everything you needed to build a robot, was in fact a book that tells you how to do it. Furthermore, it was written in 1987, so it wasn’t exactly cutting edge. I explained to her that we’d still have to buy all the parts and then follow a book full of instructions to make a crude robot. Then I asked her what she wanted a robot for anyway.

She said, “You know, to get me things. And make me tea and stuff.”

I replied, “Well, Kate, what you want doesn’t really exist yet. You want a robot with a brain that can follow instructions and do what you say. There isn’t a book that can help you build one of those. These robots are more like remote-controlled cars. You can make them move around but they can’t hear you or follow orders.”

Kate, realizing her dreams of a robot butler were perhaps unrealistic, was crestfallen. I tried to cheer her by saying, “You’re only 9, so there is a chance you’ll see personal home robots in your lifetime, just as I saw personal home computers in mine.”

This didn’t perk her up much. The tea-fetching robot Kate wants exists only in her dreams.

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