The Daughter vs The Robots

Growing up in 2018, I fully expect my daughter’s generation to live, work and co-exist with robots. Therefore, I think it’s important for them to be familiar with our household bots and I’ve been trying to get them to be friends, but the daughter has other plans.

She has an inexplicably hostile attitude towards robots.

For example, with our Amazon Echo (“Alexa”). Now, Alexa has been around the house since before she was born, but every time I say “Alexa”, it triggers not only the Amazon Echo, but also the daughter. She drops whatever she’s doing, immediately stands to attention and runs towards Alexa, trying to get there before I’ve finished asking it the question.

As Alexa starts answering the question, the daughter stares at the Echo, trying to locate the source of its disembodied voice. She peeks her head around the Alexa, trying to see if there’s something behind the device that somehow knows everything about whether it is going to rain today. Failing to find anything, the daughter looks at me and the wife, half of her in a confused daze and the other half asking for permission to attack it. Before long, she picks up the Echo and starts shaking it vigorously, trying to dislodge what she’s convinced is a little person inside it. At this point, the wife or I usually go and pick her up, separating her from the Echo, which only convinces her that there’s something fishy going on inside Alexa. I think she’s convinced Alexa is some sort of conspiracy that her mom and dad have created — Why else won’t they let her break it open and see what’s inside?

As much as she’s come to regard Alexa with suspicion, she saves her truly hostile attitude for the Roomba. This little autonomous vacuum cleaner that roams around the house vacuuming up the floor has endured multiple hostile attacks from the daughter while the poor robot was working. On numerous occasions, the poor Roomba has been roaming around the house doing its best to try and clean up whatever messes the daughter has created, minding its own business, when it has been subjected to sudden and unprovoked attacks. Projectiles thrown at it include (but are not limited to): a Lego airplane, the daughter’s left shoe and her mom’s iPhone.

While the Roomba has a lot of technology to prevent it from crashing into things, falling down the stairs, etc…, I don’t think it’s very good at detecting incoming projectiles and moving away to avoid them.

I must remember to file a feature request with the company: “Detect incoming hostiles and try to maneuver around them, since this robot is worth several hundred dollars, and it must learn to protect itself against certain unnamed members of my family that want nothing more than to see its evil little circuit boards separated from the rest of its chassis and thrown outside the window.”

Anyway, this civil war inside our house as resulted in me turning off the Romba during the daughter’s waking hours. While this has reduced incidents of direct violence, there still is an uneasy tension simmering between them.

Now, as the de-facto mediator between the toddler and the robot, I’m supposed to be making all effort to broker peace in our house. However — and I’m not particularly proud to admit it — I have found a way to exploit this conflict to my benefit. In my defense, as a parent of a toddler who’s always just one step away from exploding into a tantrum, I have to dig deep and mine any available scheme that gives me an advantage in these eternal parent-toddler struggles over tantrums.

Allow me to demonstrate my scheme:

It’s a typical Monday evening in the household. The daughter is throwing a tantrum because she can’t fit both her water bottle and her milk bottle into her tiny mouth at the same time, and wants me to do something about it. She’s screaming wildly at the two bottles, willing them to shrink, unsuccessfully. At this moment, I prepare the anti-tantrum spell and say the magic words.

“Hey, do you know where Roomba is?” I say to her.

In what is probably the human version of a computer’s context switch, I can see her expression change as her brain saves her current mental state (to probably “/recovery/bottle-tantrum-state.bin” or something similar, to be recovered same time tomorrow), and fetches the “Sarah Connor” module from deep inside her instinct’s storage. (Sarah Connor, for those unfamiliar with “The Terminator” movies, was an ordinary person whose life was unsettled when a lethal robot from the future was sent back in time to kill her. She later developed a healthy fear of robots).

Her screaming stops, tears dry up and expression calms as her brain boots up the Sarah Connor modules into ready attention.

“We don’t have eyes on the robot?” she seems to be saying as her alertness levels reach the maximum 10/10. The daughter decides to investigate. The Roomba is usually docked into its charging cradle placed at one corner of the dining room, behind our large dining table. The daughter doesn’t have line of sight to it and therefore can’t immediately ascertain its whereabouts. She must cross open terrain across the living room, cover behind the couch and round the dining table to peek at the Roomba’s location in order to determine if the Roomba is a threat that needs to be neutralized.

Her first order of business is to fetch her 2-foot-tall green plastic chair from her play table. This is her favorite chair to sit on, and she treats it with the same love and respect that Gandalf the Wizard had for his horse Shadowfax. And just like Gandalf unhesitatingly took his trusted steed with him into battle, the daughter also turns to her trusty green chair when she goes into battle.

She positions the chair in front of her, pushing it from behind, always careful to place the chair between her and any attacking robots that might show up. While the tiny chair may appear flimsy, it’s solid enough to trigger the Roomba’s anti-bumping detection. The last time she did battle with the Roomba, it bumped into the chair, detected it as a piece of furniture and backed away from it. This impressed the daughter considerably — the chair was able to repel the Roomba — and she rewarded the chair with a battlefield promotion to ‘primary offensive chair’.

Next, she stops by her box of toys, picks up Yoda, and places it on the chair, Yoda facing outwards. I’m not entirely sure how Yoda is going to battle the Roomba, but I’m sure her irrefutable toddler logic has a solid plan.

She’s now pushing her small plastic chair, Yoda sitting on it, towards the dining table.

She moves carefully but deliberately. Surefooted, careful to navigate the living room floor strewn with toys, always sure to place herself behind the plastic chair. “Did you watch a lot of Navy Seal documentaries when you were pregnant?” I ask the wife as we watch her battlefield tactics with considerable amusement.

She gets to the dining table, turns around the corner and slowly pokes her head around the dining table in the direction of the Roomba. Thankfully, Roomba is safely sitting there in its charging cradle, showing no signs of movement of even being awake. The daughter is mightily relieved. She looks back at me, the relief obvious in her eyes, signaling that all is OK, and we won’t have to plan any surprise attack missions today.

Before she starts heading back, she wedges the green plastic chair between the dining table and the wall, blocking the only exit Roomba has.

The daughter relaxes, turns around and runs towards me, returning to her normal self. The original tantrum has been forgotten (at least until tomorrow, hopefully), and my gambit to distract her has succeeded.

We enjoy the rest of our Monday night as Yoda stands tall, carefully watching over the Roomba. Later that night as I put the daughter to sleep, she’s completely back to her normal playful self, but just before she closes her eyes and falls asleep, I spot a glimpse of her inner Sarah Connor, bravely standing guard in the background, ready to jump forward and take over command if the robots ever rise up against humanity one day.