Now, before I get into this opinion piece, I want to preface by saying that I’ve seen the “Terminator” movies and most of “Doctor Who,” so I get the whole fear of robots thing. I am someone who is mildly terrified by the concept of Siri and Alexa, someone who shivers whenever I see that there’s an advertisement on my phone based on one sleep-deprived Google search done at 3 a.m. (Google, I don’t actually want a Dutch oven. I’m a broke college senior, and they’re way too expensive. Also, I live at Brandeis. Where do I have room to keep a Dutch oven? Stop recommending me Dutch ovens!)
So, with all that said, I should be afraid of the Kiwibots, those little robot companions of ours, the ones that have a weirdly excellent sense of navigation on this Sisyphean hill of a campus. But actually, despite all the sci-fi movies about the horrors of robots, I found myself actually liking them. They make me smile! They flash little emoji faces! They’re busy little bees, here to save you the walk to Einstein’s and Upper at 9 p.m., when you’re exhausted from hours of classes and extracurriculars.
Oh, and they talk now.
Imagine my surprise when I, a very tired college senior, walked down to meet my Kiwibot, only to hear it chirp. And whine. And, after I got over the initial shock of hearing it make sounds, the Kiwibot, in its impatience, literally asked, “Hello-o-o?”
Imagine my surprise when I, a very tired college senior, heard myself reply (yes, reply), “Hang on, hang on, let me just find the stupid button.”
Imagine my absolute horror at realizing that I’d legit replied to a robot, straight out of the “Star Wars” movies. (Because does Anakin Skywalker or Poe Dameron actually understand whatever their cute little droids are talking about? According to Wookiepedia, they do, but this isn’t the “Star Wars” universe. I don’t actually speak in binary or whatever it is the droids speak in.)
So, given this new information, does this change my opinion on the Kiwibots? Will I join the ranks of students purposely standing in the way of Kiwibots, just to piss them off? Will I, too, join the angry mob in kicking over Kiwibots or threatening to run them over with the car I don’t have?
I’m a little unsure.
Because here’s the thing: on the one hand, it’s initially unsettling for your Kiwibot to call after you because you haven’t picked up your food yet. It’s also initially unsettling for your Kiwibot to keep calling after you, even after you’ve gone into your building. And it’s even more unsettling to see your Kiwibot linger outside for another minute before finally turning around.
But here’s the other thing, and perhaps the thing that will absolutely get me killed if the robots ever decide to turn into violent killing machines: I still find it cute. Perhaps it really is years and years of watching “Star Wars” that’s eating my brain, but I find the Kiwibots’ new talking abilities endearing. They’re so cheerful and chirpy, and even their “hello-o-o?” makes me smile, especially when I’ve been doing nothing but writing papers or doing homework or listening to the clock tick one second closer to my latest deadline.
So this is a plea from your local Kiwibot-enjoyer: please don’t kick the Kiwibots just because you hear them greet you. They’re probably just programmed to repeat the same three or four sounds. It’s a little shocking at first, but the ability to voluntarily make noises doesn’t make a thing inherently creepy, does it? (Okay, maybe flawed logic. I think we can all recall a few people who have voluntarily spoken and then immediately made you want to run for the hills. Or grab a bottle of pepper spray.)
But I still stand by my point. If the Kiwibots talk now, then I’m personally cool with that. Just don’t judge me too hard if you see me responding to one of them. And also maybe prepare my grave if they really do turn out to be angry killing machines.