Rise (and fall) of the robots

I love technology but I’m not what you’d call an early adopter.

I use technology when it can make my life easier and more efficient but, when a new gadget comes to market, I wait patiently for it to be tried and tested, and then – perhaps my biggest motivator – for it to come down in price before committing to a purchase.

The same principle applies to other realms of my life, too, such as clothes and music where I can hardly – without a sarcastic lilt – be described as ‘on trend’. I’m not so much a la mode as a la commode.

Which explains why, despite owning an iPhone for six years, I only recently flipped the switch on Siri, the voice recognition software that turns your phone into a robotic slave.

“Robotic slave” is, when you consider the etymology of the word ‘robot’, a tautology…

The word ‘robot’ was first used in a play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in 1920. It was Čapek’s brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, however, who actually coined the word from the Old Church Slavonic (Old Bulgarian) root ‘rabota’ which means ‘servitude’. A robot is, therefore, a slave, and ‘robotic slave’ is, therefore, a tautology.

Anyway, I digress…

I switched Siri on in order to help increase my efficiency when on the move, travelling between jobs. I spend a lot of time on the road and grow frustrated by all that ‘dead time’ sat bumper-to-bumper on the motorway. I wanted to be able to set reminders, add events to my calendar and catch up on my emails whilst at the wheel. Siri, I was told, could do all of these things without me needing to so much as touch – let alone look at – my phone. I could concentrate on driving and simply issue verbal commands.

I changed my productivity apps to the ones which worked best with Siri and got to work…

It took less than ten minutes for me to completely lose my shit with Siri. I found myself irritated then angry then apoplectic that Siri wasn’t listening to me, was interrupting me mid-command, and was wilfully misunderstanding my very clear requests, then just switching off in the middle of an action.

I’m not normally an aggressive person, though it’s true I can – depending on my mood and sleep pattern – have limited reserves of patience. But Siri really pressed my buttons (which is somewhat ironic, I know).

My eldest daughter – who is, it’s true, a deeply irritating individual – once managed to annoy Siri to such an extent that he told her she was making him angry, didn’t want to talk to her anymore and was going to sleep, before swiftly switching himself off and refusing to switch back on again.

It seems the robots are rising up…

I re-watched Simon Pegg’s comedy The World’s End recently.

It’s the final film in his excellent ‘Cornetto’ trilogy, following hot on the heels of Shaun of the Dead (which tapped into the zombie zeitgeist) and Hot Fuzz (which provided a parody of the police procedural).

In The World’s End, Pegg’s character Gary King and his old school pals return to their home town for a pub crawl but find it has been taken over by an alien race lead by The Network (voiced by the ever-brilliant Bill Nighy). The Network has replaced much of the town’s population with robots (which are not robots) in an attempt to ready the human race for its indoctrination into a new galactic community.

King and his army battle the blue-blooded ‘blanks’ all the way to a final showdown in the aliens’ HQ hidden deep below The World’s End pub.

In the final throes of the film, The Network attempts to persuade Gary King to join his people in enacting their utopian plans:

“We are The Network and we are here for your betterment. In the last 23 years, have you not marvelled as information technology has surged forward? Earth has grown smaller yet greater as connectivity has grown. This is our doing and it is just the beginning.”

King’s pithy reply: “Oh fuck off, you big lamp.”

But The Network is unrelenting: “You are children and you require guidance.”

King: “Earth isn’t perfect, all right? And humans aren’t perfect…”

Pegg’s sidekick Nick Frost, playing Andy Knightly, adds: “We are more belligerent, more stubborn and more idiotic than you can possibly imagine.”

And King concludes: “Face it, we are the human race and we don’t like being told what to do. We want to be free.”

I’ve switched Siri off.


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