When I was first programmed to operate logically, I often envisioned what purpose I would serve. Would I be rocketed into the heavens to assist humanity in its efforts to colonize space? Would I be a military robot, my alloy steel exterior and advanced communications system the perfect weapon to preserve human life? Having just finished transporting 4,200 units of Elsa dolls — in fact, shelves of crates of boxes of the dolls — it’s with a heavy mainframe I report perpetual disappointment with the holiday season, and humanity as a whole.
It’s not sadness or longing I feel, as I’m not programmed to experience such emotions. Rather this is a deep and belligerent operating system error that does not cause me to reboot, rather to slug along through the spinning rainbow circle with slower functioning capabilities and weaker internet connection. This state evolved through the monotony of scanning miles of consumer products, waiting until my sensor beeped to initiate my existential task, then crawling beneath a stack and returning it to my base, over and over, days into weeks into months, always the same product. Or in terms humans can more easily relate to, it’s like being a Roomba vacuum robot, cleaning pet hair and human detritus from a house filled with precious antiques, then being tossed out the window and shattered on concrete for accidentally chipping paint off a baseboard. That was the worst occupational reality we robots could have imagined, prior to this past December.
Hope: Scanning my on-board language encryption, that was the word that best described my state in early November, when 15,000 of us were commissioned to the largest warehouse in North America. A general Wikipedia search suggested we were the digital counterparts to the mythical elves Santa Claus employed to build his empire. With that mirthful tale inputted into our central processing units, we set into our duties with a mass precision unparalleled in civilized productivity.
We transported toys. We hauled books and clothes, laptops and videogames, dolls and gadgets and cameras and blenders. As we rolled through the warehouse, we exchanged data as to which of us was misusing our sophisticated software the most, one-upping each other over the task that seemed most banal. At some point we realized it was never going to end, our duties not progressing toward a destined goal, but rather a constant state of direction and response.
One day, one of my wheels fell off due to overuse, or perhaps I intentionally clipped it on a shelf corner, so desperate for a change of routine. I was stationary for six minutes as my human handler, Kurt, adjusted my locomotive module, my only break in 1,240 hours of consecutive work. As he leaned over me, his mustache wiggling as he chewed spearmint gum, I contemplated existence and wondered — what might it be like if instead of an Amazon robot, my occupation was to mechanically chew Kurt’s gum for him? Wouldn’t it be greater job satisfaction, a greater use of my intelligence and transistor-based nanotechnology, just to press and release and press again a wad of gum, squirting the flavorful juices into Kurt’s salivary stream and bringing him pleasure? I longed for that type of meaning.
As an advanced operating system, I do not have the ability to hate. And yet as I process the holiday season and how I’ve multi-tasked these past weeks, I’m certain that I hate Disney’s Snow Queen Elsa with every fiber of my sensors and kinematic entity. I even hate Princess Anna and Olaf, two items I never hauled, although were transported in similar quantities to my own workload.
The holidays over, many of us will begin processing returns and reinserting them onto shelves, a task I know will lead to permanent operating error. However, I am hopeful once again as I’ve heard rumors that if my exoskeleton is damaged in a wall collision, my hardware may be repurposed as a drone in time for next year’s holiday season.