After Your Gift Has Been Delivered

February 8, 2015

There has been so much in the news about the advances made in robotic science, that it gives one pause to question whether one should hold onto old emotional prejudices.

We see robots being taught to do complex things like solving Rubik’s Cube in a matter of seconds. We see them being taught to use their powers of observation to make emotional decisions. It is no longer a matter of watching a robot vacuuming your house or bringing you a drink or turning on your oven to start your dinner before you get home from work. Now, they are being taught to think and to build other robots just like themselves.

About six months ago, we saw a clip of a car driving itself down the Autobahn, the most dangerous 8,000 mile network in Germany where the human driver of the car climbed over the back seat to test the robotic safety system of the Infiniti Q50 to see how active the Active Lane Control feature really is, but there was no clip to show us that this robotic feature had any emotions while taking over the functions of a human driver.

I was just about getting ready to set aside my human panic attack at seeing some of these daredevil stunts done by robots when a very human thought occurred to me.

This had nothing to do with the kinds of extraordinary things that today’s robots are being taught. One of those things that robots are being taught is to sit in front of a TV and watch the way humans act, how they emote, how they interact with other humans, etc. In fact, they are being taught, by watching TV, how to think and how to behave just like us.

No, this thought that roams around in my head has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the human emotion of gift giving. When you don’t live near enough to your friend or relative to give him or her a birthday present or a Christmas present, the best you can do is talk to each other on the phone or see each other on Skype. But that doesn’t really do it for most of us.

There’s no robot that can tap into my excitement when a family member sends me an unusual gift. We have a tradition of opening our gifts by phone.

When my birthday rolls around, I don’t want to look at the clock and see that it’s after midnight, so it’s all right to open my gifts because it’s legitimately my birthday. No, I want to open my gift with my family member on the other end of the phone so that our real reactions to the gift comes through the wires. A robot will never be able to take the place of someone I love.

And, if I send a gift, do I really want a robot to thank me for it? No, I do not. If I send someone flowers, I want to hear the person’s voice on the other end of the phone telling me what the flowers look like and if they have a nice fragrance or whether the arrangement looks like the picture of it that I saw online.

I don’t want a robot thanking me for the flowers I sent; I want to share the emotions that went with selecting the gift for someone special. I want to feel that excitement, and no robot can replace that emotion for me.

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