Two things happened recently that really made me feel my age (one bigger and one smaller)
Bigger Thing: Encountering “Jay”, the Wal-Mart Floor Cleaning Robot
I was headed for the checkouts and came around a corner to see this thing, which was slowly and awkwardly inching around a display in the centre of an aisle. I’ve seen pictures of robots in stores online but this is the first one I’ve actually encountered, and I was completely caught off-guard. I stood there, watching it, with a feeling I was not immediately able to identify. (And thought: I should blog about this moment so maybe I can figure out what I’m experiencing)
A nearby store worker saw me staring, and helpfully informed me that I was fine to walk past it, and that it would stop for me. “No, I know, I’m just looking at it,” I hastily replied.
Looking back, I think maybe the feeling was a mixture of:
- The Future is here, right in front of me, and I’m not ready for it
- Is this really better than just having a person do it?
- Also, I sort of wish they hadn’t tried to put a ‘face’ on it, but that’s an aesthetic preference and not really a philosophical issue
All of this was a little confusing to deal with because I’ve always considered myself a ‘heck yeah, tech is awesome, bring on the sci-fi-stuff’ kind of person. But I realize now that events of the last few years have really damaged my notions that Big Tech has our best interests at heart and will make things better. And, the last month or two in particular has seen a big rise in conversations around AI and machine learning and I just have no idea where any of it’s headed and yeah! Frankly, it all kinda concerns me. So this robot is just an outcropping of that general sort of Future-related anxiety.
Anyway, I finally went past it, but glanced back and noticed a screen that said its name was “Jay”, which is where I got that little factoid. Lastly, you’ll notice from the picture that the machine’s work was pretty uneven (streaky), so here’s the kicker; the store had a human being with a mop following the robot, too. If that isn’t some kind of metaphor for the broken promise of a Better Living Through Tech, I’m not sure what is.
Smaller Thing: Cassidy Asks a Simple Question
At breakfast with my daughter, my wife and I reminiscing about our elementary school days. I told Cassidy (age 6) that my school even brought in Ronald McDonald once to talk about how great reading is. (I was in grade 3. Ronald had a puppet friend that kept interrupting him, and the bit killed)
“Who’s Ronald McDonald?” she asked. She loves McDonalds, so I just assumed she’d know, because who doesn’t? But I guess they really have scaled back his appearances a lot. The question honestly kinda winded me. On the other hand, when she heard about his being a clown, she immediately asked us not to show her any pictures, ever. So maybe the McDonalds corporation has the pulse of today’s children better than me.
Thing I Saw: What, besides the robot? We’re dogsitting for a co-worker of Lori’s, so he and the cat have had tensions that I haven’t witnessed since our old Yorkie was around. Gideon Cat is getting braver every day, but I actually saw him hiss, which is super rare.
Thing I Learned: Discord voice chat is integrated at a system level in the Xbox user interface. I might not have the terminology quite right but it means you don’t have to download a separate app. On the other hand, if you’re used to chatting via your phone, you’ll abruptly end the voice chat when you forget and turn off your Xbox for the night haha
I’m Grateful For: Lori. The days of late have been challenging, particularly with a rambunctious dog to sit upon, and I’m grateful to have a partner to do the days with.