Robots that Fetch: Yet another reason to let your muscles atrophy.

I’m all for helping those with difficulties.  I’m all for home health care and making the elderly more self-reliant when possible.  And for particular cases, a robot like El-E would be a meaningful life improvement for people.  But there is nothing keeping such a robot from being something other than a home health care device.

I know a guy who used to ride around on motorized scooters and pop wheelies on them.  Then there’s the episode of Seinfeld where George pretends to be disabled.  An extreme case, but we all at least know someone who’ve ridden the electric carts for the handicapped around Walmart until their charges run out.  Some of us have gotten up and just left them after, walking away.  These are tendencies that are not goo, not because some person in need was kept from using a device, but because they breed disrespect.  A robot can be a toy, but a home healthcare robot shouldn’t be.

Some people may ask why.  If it isn’t damaging anyone, or damaging the tool, why not have a little fun with it when it’s free?  Why not become familiar with such technologies through use?  Perhaps such testing and play is not all bad, but I think we let it get out of hand.  We forget, in the wonder of a new toy, that we don’t need the device.  We forget, on the scooter, that we have two legs to walk with.  We forget that we can go over and pick the remote up ourselves, or even walk over to the TV itself and turn it off.  Experimentation is one thing, but too many of us do not recognise the shift from testing the limits of a tool to becoming habitually dependant on that tool.

A good example would be cell phones.  At my high school, they were not allowed.  If you had one for emergencies, to contact parents or others while you were travelling to or from school, or for other legitimate reasons, that was fine, but they were expected to be kept in cars, or lockers, or otherwise out of sight for the duration of school hours.  If you were caught with one, you lost it.  But as years passed and my means of communication with the outside world narrowed due to distance, I used mine more frequently.  I could have taken to answer the thing out of hand on the first ring, but I’ve tried not to.  I cultivate accidents.  I forget to charge my phone before long trips, before going home for Thanksgiving, before spending the night at a friend’s.  I do, on occasion, turn it off.

But I wonder if this is enough.  I wonder if all of us, despite protests and reserve, will have our own Rosie the robot maid of Jetsons fame.  Perhaps it will nto make us totally lazy, in the end.