A Typical Day Amongst Robots by John R. Canter

How things could be…

Kara woke up and, yawning, got out of bed. She waved her hand vaguely towards the domestic robot, who had only just opened the door to her room. She was already awake, even though it was early for most other people, and could see its android silhouette in the morning light.

She used the bathroom and washed her hands and face. Then she did some morning stretches for a few minutes to get moving – some floor exercises, a few sit-ups, the usual.

The robot put a load of laundry to be washed in the washing machine. He automatically sorted the colors to prevent color bleed, and filled the load to the right amount to use water most efficiently. Kara often got that part wrong.

The robot then made Kara a full breakfast, with toast, fruit, and an egg. It then washed the dishes and packed her a lunch for later while Kara reviewed her plans for the day, checking to see that the robot had everything for work packed for her. It always did. Today there was an umbrella added, and she realized that, yes, it did look cloudy outside. The robot hung the washed laundry to dry on the indoor rack.

Kara brushed her teeth and got dressed for work, filling her pockets with some things – her apartment key, e-wallet, and of course her smart-phone. It had already sent a message to a nearby car to come pick her up1.

As she left the robot said, “Have a good day at work.” He always said that, though sometimes the software, sensing she had not slept well that night or that she was feeling down, would modify its inflection automatically. Today the voice was neutral, typical. Default.

Kara walked the short distance to the waiting parked car under the cloudy sky. Sensing her presence2 it opened the driver-side door and she climbed in. Buckled in behind the wheel, she rode, as a dispassionate passenger, the fifteen minute leisurely commute to work.

Disembarking upon arrival, the car glided off to its next customer. Kara went into the small common work office she rented with a few other designers. No one was there – Li was traveling in China on vacation to visit his grandmother, and Jessie was still out sick, so she called in instead. She greeted her coworker’s virtual presence3 at her desk as she checked in and reviewed her work schedule. Things were going along well with the current project, writing another program of human personalities for the increasingly ubiquitous robots. Kara had both an academic background and a natural intuition of people and interactions, and was a valuable member of the team as an adept of interpersonal communication and relations.

Kara and Jessie talked about the particulars of the project. The customer had wanted the voice of a confident young woman, and personalized facial expressions that implied they were different from the mass production models. “Make the robot look and sound beautiful, sexy,” the customer specified in the invoice. The two ladies talked about whether the behavior imprints they were coding matched the build specifications, or what those specifications actually meant at all, for that matter.

She checked her email from her work terminal during a short break later that morning. She ate lunch, a sandwich, later on, and then went back to recording work of her facial expressions and voice inflection, coding them into the software. Much of it was automated. Jessie signed off and took a nap and felt bad about it, but Kara thought she was a real trooper to be present, even digitally, on a sick day.

At the end of the day she tidied her workplace, packed up, and signed out. She left work for home, shielded from the rain with the umbrella, a different car waiting this time. This one was also blue, her favorite color. She wondered if someone had coded into the cars’ algorithms some way to know this, and to prioritize those cars to pick her up if possible. She hadn’t thought of it before, but it seemed pretty believable. Machines and A.I. could do just about everything these days.

When she arrived home, the robot was already waiting, plastic hands held out to receive her things, but she said, “I’ll hold onto them, I’m going back out in a bit and the car’s idling.” The robot nodded, “As you wish,” an affirming acceptance, and returned to its tidying. Kara changed out of her blue dress and into more casual clothes – a long skirt, a light blouse and some comfy shoes.

She got back in the car and went to the strip mall down the road, scrolling her online feed while she waited for the drive to be over. Li had posted pictures from China. She could see him standing in the middle of the panorama of Chengdu’s skyline from the top of Jianmu Tower. “Ladder to Heaven” could be seen in English and simplified Mandarin on a sign in the shot.

When the car stopped, she got out and walked along the sidewalk. She came to a small clothes shop and went in. A low robot scuttled towards her from across a distance, simple and cartoon-like, deliberately non-threatening in the store colors, and made like a box on wheels with a basket on top. “Welcome!” it said cheerfully, “can I help you find anything?”

“I’ve just come to pick up my order.” She did not tell the robot her name; the software could recognize her face and knew her account from that. One of the robot’s lights flickered briefly as it processed this information.

“Of course. While you wait, why not browse our lovely store?” it suggested, not actually asking.

“I guess so,” Kara responded, a shopper at heart. The robot, sensing the conversation was over, rolled off to find the order, constantly correcting its wobbling path as it headed to the storage room4.

After a few minutes the robot came back, its cart containing a set of largish brassieres. Kara looked at them, and trying one on in the fitting room, realized it was too small, that she had grown bigger again, and it did not fit. She should exercise more, she thought, to get rid of the weight she knew she must be putting on, and might even walk home if the weather improved.

“We can return the item and refund you the purchase,” the robot reminded Kara. She accepted, but placed a new order for what she hoped was the right size. Before it was done, another customer had entered. Kara turned, but saw that it was a domestic robot similar to her own, one that had been sent out to run errands. It stood there, off to the side, wordlessly, and after a short while a robot cart came by. The domestic robot pulled out the parcel, a discrete box of something Kara knew not what, stood there a moment more, and left. Robots didn’t use speech when communicating with each other any more than robots needed to type on a computer keyboard, but to Kara it was still eerie. Uncanny.

Kara left empty-handed, having to wait for the new bras to be shipped. She ran a few more errands around the mall, looking at physical items in person as a change of pace to browsing virtual objects in virtual space. She took pictures of the items, which were automatically cataloged to her phone’s shopping list and let her know cheaper prices were available online. That’s why there were so few retail stores anymore – they had become little more than galleries where people viewed what they would buy elsewhere. There were even fewer people there, clerks or customers. It was raining, and while waiting for a car to pick her up after she finished, she modified her order to include delivery5.

When she got home she found the laundry already dried, folded, and stowed. She browsed Li’s online photo album he was uploading of his trip, commenting and sometimes tagging as she went. She had felt like Chinese food that night, and suggested so to her robot. He cooked dim sun while she played video games (the Retro Games Bundle she bought had a lot of her old single-player favorites ported to augmented reality). The smell of Chinese food wafting through the air played odd tricks on her memory as she replayed old levels of Bazooka Bill. Dinner was delicious, as usual, and the robot made just enough (of course) for her to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. The robot did not eat, and packed the remaining food away and washed the dishes.

Kara took a shower. When she got out, she relaxed by listening to music, having downloaded the latest album from Dust and the Sentimental Clutter. She talked with friends on Chatter, sending quick messages between a dozen linked friends while she listened.

It was getting late, and she checked to see if she needed to prepare anything for tomorrow, but it would be very similar to today, everything taken care of by her robot.

She brushed her teeth, readying for bed. She thought to herself that it was one of the few things that she had to do for herself much anymore. A lot of her day could have been taken care of by her domestic robot, much like the one she had seen in the store.

It suddenly occurred to her that she went the entire day without talking face-to-face with a single human.

And for some reason that struck her as odd. She had many days like this, now that robots were so cheap and common. She thought that maybe as someone who loves being around other people it would seem odd to her, but that to most everyone else they had just gotten used to it already.

Kara went to her bedroom, her domestic robot powered down into night watch mode. She laid down and went to sleep.

Tomorrow would be much like today, she thought.

1  A self driving car, of course. They work less like personal property and more like a hired service. Kara had the top-end subscription, which prioritized her right-of-way in traffic with other self-driving cars and ensured short transits.

2  And the signal from her smart-phone app.

3  A volumetric display of her in a standing pose; Jessie herself was getting bed-rest. After a while Kara didn’t pay it any attention, since it cycled through the same idle animation after a short while, and it would only display if someone had called to her or walked near the station within the last five minutes, like a screen saver.

4  Shopping carts, even ultra-advanced artificially intelligent, customer-recognizing robot shopping carts, will always have one of its wheels be loose, wobbling back and forth and making it impossible to steer in a strait line. It is perhaps a rule of their engineering.

5  It would arrive by autonomous carrier drone; American policy had sorted that business out long ago.

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