bob robot vacuum
Photo: Laurie Nelson-Barker

Dr. Stephen Hawking has argued that artificial intelligence could either save humanity or destroy it. I believe Dr. Hawking. However, if Bob is any indication of where we are headed, we are doomed.

Bob is my robot vacuum. He was advertised as being smart and cooperative, and he was supposed to help make my living room safer by cleaning up all the riffraff occupying the floor. That means radicalized dog fur and undocumented dirt. He tries, but I think he may not be fully equipped to deliver on the promises made by slick marketers.

At first, it seemed as though Bob may have potential. He is an unabashed bright and shiny red. He stands out among other vacuums. He looks like he can squash the opposition. His bin is oversized. He can scoop up more dirt in one pass, but tends to repeat himself and move in circles. Bob gets stuck under the furniture a lot and fizzles out quickly after a robust start. One dog barks and howls at him, and the other one retreats, just hoping that he will go away. The cat exhibits utter disdain for such a pathetic entity.

Bob does his best to convince me he can do the job, but I am skeptical. He doesn’t seem to really understand the mechanics of proper cleaning. He’s loud but kind of ineffective. He’s enthusiastic when fully charged, but kind of fizzles out and is forced to retract his promise of bright, shiny floors. I often need backup to achieve the level of cleanliness I expect from him. Bumps in his path present a challenge. Bob is randomly dangerous, too. He will suck up unsuspecting power cords with reckless abandon and refuses to let go. He has a difficult time find his charging station. He doesn’t seem to have a clear concept of where he is headed.

You can tell Bob what kind of cleaning patterns you prefer, but I don’t think he listens. There does not seem to be any logic behind his sporadic movements. He probably needs servicing, but then we would have to ship him to an unknown location and wait for his return. I will admit that the thought has occurred to me before. He claims to be functioning fine, but I have my doubts.

Bob has to be constantly monitored. Otherwise, he becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Bob’s right wheel malfunctioned once, and he became unbalanced. It scared me. He turned in circles while making a strange whirring noise. It looked like he couldn’t be helped, and he became a danger to our household. We finally had to arrange for a new wheel, which required numerous phone calls and emails. It wasn’t easy, but he seems to be back on track until the next incident. Yep. Bob the robot vacuum cleaner is certainly in no position to make major decisions about cleaning or anything else. Don’t even get me started on Siri. At least she can tell you where to go and how to get there! Just saying.

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