Bring on the robots - Bob Paslay

One of my greatest disappointments over the last two decades is the fact that we have not moved faster with robot technology.

What reminded me of this was the fact that I ate supper with my friend David in Buckhead the other night and our waitress was acting like a robot.

"Hi, I am Julie. I will be your server." (Please read this in an R2-D2 voice). "May I read the specials tonight?"

And accustomed to Southern hospitality of joking around with wait people, I found her even more robot-like.

I joked with David about whether she ran on AAA or AA batteries and his response was he thought it was one of those rechargeable batteries that had to be plugged in occasionally. This would account for her running down and not coming to the table very often. "Dooooooo yooooooou neeeeeeeed anything eeeeeelse?"

So I say to myself that this is the perfect place to put a real robot.

Let me remind you that robot comes from a Czech word roboto for enforced labor. Czech playwright Karel Capek's play "R.U.R.," for "Rossum's Universal Robots," was staged in Prague in 1921 and the robots ended up overtaking the human masters. Now that I am reading more science fiction, I know the whole scare postulated by Isaac Asimov and many writers that robots could get out of hand. Asimov came up with three rules for robots in his fiction in 1942: A robot must not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where those orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the First or Second Law.

But I for one am ready for a planet of robots and I wish we could hurry up and get them. I thought the robot dogs that debuted the other year would pave the way for human robots, but those gray overpriced plastic dogs seemed to have petered out. I see them for sale at yard sales and flea markets for about $3.

I got a call a few years ago from a plant manager who wanted to unveil his state of the art assembly plant that featured only a few humans and lots of robotics.

First, I thought that someone who is putting hundreds of humans out of work, replaced by robotics, should be a little less enthusiastic – at least for public consumption. But the prospect of seeing "I Robot" come to life excited me so much I trooped over to the unveiling, expecting to see thousands of clone robots greeting us at the door and walking us through the plant. To my surprise there were no robots, but only robotics, machines that looked like machines. All of us know from Sci-Fi that robots should look just like humans except they have a bunch of wires and circuits where our innards are.

Was I the only person fooled by the recent "I Robot" movie? I said to my friend Jay, who keeps me on the straight and narrow understanding of science and all things sci-fi: "Hey, I sure would like to have one or two of those robots now that the movie is over. I wonder where they stored them." He looked at me with that "are you kidding or just that stupid" look and said all the robots were computer generated, basically animation and no full-size honest to goodness robots.

Rod Serling, who I love as much today as I did the day I saw my first Twilight Zone, died an untimely death decades ago after puffing too much. But not before he created a lasting body of work. I read one of his short stories years ago and since you won't read it I will give away the cunningly twisted Serling ending we love so much. An astronaut has been living on a planet for years with this female robot as a companion. The space ship comes to take him back to earth and says there is only enough room for him and he will have to leave his robot companion behind, after all she is only bolts and circuits. He says he can't leave her behind. They say if you stay we are not ever coming back for you. He says he doesn't care and leave without me. As the spaceship launches off and is out of sight, he says to her something to the effect: "At least we will have each other forever." Then he hears "boiing" as her springs bust. Serling had a few robot episodes too, all exploring this theme of them not being a bucket of bolts but someone you come to love.

If you think about it, the British understood the importance of robots years ago and since they didn't have the technology to invent them they just turned poor Londoners into them and called them servants. They waited on rich people but for public consumption saw nothing or heard nothing. They were very loyal. At least that is the way "Upstairs, Downstairs" portrays it.

And since I can't afford any servants, I wish I had a robot or two. I hate to drive. If I ever won the lottery that is the first thing I would get is a driver. Why can't they invent me a driver robot. And a clean up the house robot (no a vacuum cleaner doesn't qualify as a full robot). And a fix dinner robot. And a play chess against me robot.

Think of the positive side. You could order fresh milk and it could be delivered at your front door. You could get sick and the medical robot could actually make house calls. Operator robots could answer "May I help you?" Think of how refreshing this would be compared to the robo voice today saying: "If you are wearing boxer shorts push one and if you are wearing briefs push two."

Think of the Nashville robots that could write songs like "Achy Breaky Circuit Board" or "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Robots."

Then there is that down side. Imagine turning on the television set and there is this yahoo in a cowboy hat with a shotgun he fires in the air and shouts: "You need a used R2-D2. Come on down. We take trades. We don't check your credit. Our robots just rode to church and back with a little old school teacher.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .