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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Can Robots For Domestic Help Ever Replace Good Old Bai?

Many dream of using robots for domestic help –  who do our domestic chores perfectly, without a word of complaint. Can a robot really take the place of a human being?

 

Like millions of women in India who live in mortal fear that their ‘kaamwali bai’ will take an impromptu 10 day hiatus (just because she can), there is a glimmer of hope in the not so distant future. The hope takes the form of a domesticated robot which comes trained in all household chores, can switch roles to a nanny or a cook and the holiest of holiest – will never take leave.
This beautiful creation of man will tirelessly strive to achieve your ideal of a spic and span home with made to order meals and happy babies who are put to sleep by a never ending list of lullabies played on a continuous loop.

Sounds too good? Well, hold your breath, the expression ‘best thing since sliced bread’ will soon be amended to ‘best thing since the Bai robot.’ We are in for a ride and though I mostly look forward to it, I cannot help wondering if in my old age I would have a caregiver robot giving me sponge baths and force feeding me. This disturbing image sent me running to my four-year-old daughter who solemnly promised that she would never hand me over to the cold metal hands of a walking talking machine.

Having thus recovered, I again start fantasizing about the Bai robot and the innumerable advantages it offers. The machine would be respectful, work round the clock, will require no encouragement or bribes, will not mysteriously disappear for long periods of time on festivals and other holidays, will be a one time investment and will in all probability come with a 10 year warranty and the best thing is that you can exchange it for newer model- guilt free!

But and with due respect to the Bai robot’s metallic butt, will it offer a deaf ear to all your rants? Oh, wait! It is a device, so it might take in your rants, run a few algorithms and come back to you with a solution. Ever considered that? You rave and rant and say “I can’t take it anymore and I want to quit and take a never ending holiday” and in a jiffy it sends a resignation email to your company and books a holiday causing a considerable dent in your bank account. You try and undo the resignation, but you are identified as a flight risk and are handed a severance package with a weeks’ notice on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, your spouse notices the dent in your account and books an appointment with either a mental health specialist or a divorce lawyer the same Monday morning. This will cause you to do unmentionable things to the Bai robot which will soon be reduced to a pile of rubble. Talk about return on investment!
Domesticated robots may be the future, but we still may need to have the overbearing Kanta Bai to monitor the monstrosity created by man and lend a friendly ear to our problems. It’s still not Bye “Bai” time yet! And strangely I really don’t mind – anything for some human company.

~Roopa Prabhakar

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