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Author Topic: EP489: Uncanny  (Read 4379 times)

eytanz

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on: April 10, 2015, 03:35:48 AM
EP489: Uncanny

by James Patrick Kelly

Read by Dani Cutler

---

A month after I broke up with Jonathan, or Mr. Wrong, as my mother liked to call him, she announced that she’d bought me a machine to love. She found it on eBay, paid the Buy It Now price and had it shipped to me the next day. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed a machine or how she picked it out or what she thought it would do for me. My mother never asked advice or permission. I dreaded finding the heavy, flat box that UPS left propped against my front door.

I called her. “It’s here. So what does it do?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“You always say that, but it’s never true. We all want something.” I hated it when she was being patient with me. “Just give it a chance, honey. They’re more complicated than men,” she said, “but cleaner.”

I muscled it into the foyer. I retrieved the box cutter from Jonathan’s neurotically tidy toolbox and sliced carefully through the packing tape. I decided that I’d try it, but I also intended to send the thing back, so I saved the bubble wrap and styrofoam.

There was no manual. The assembly instructions were in twelve pictographs printed on either side of a glossy sheet of paper. They showed a stick figure woman with a black circle for a head building the machine. Black was just how I felt as I attached the arms and headlights, fit the wheels and drawers into place. It stood five feet, eleven and three quarter inches tall; I measured. I had to give Mom credit; she knew quality when she saw it. The shiny parts were real chrome and there was no flex to the titanium chassis, which was painted glossy blue, the exact blue of Jonathan’s eyes. It smelled like the inside of a new car. I realized too late that I should have assembled it closer to the wall, I had to plug the charger into an extension cord. The power light flashed red; the last pictograph showed the stick figure woman staring at a twenty-four hour clock, impatience squiggles leaping from her round, black head.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My bed seemed very big, filled with Jonathan’s absence. I had a nightmare about the dishwasher overflowing and then I was dancing with the vacuum cleaner in a warm flood of soapy water.

When I came home from work the next day the machine was fully charged and was puttering about the apartment with my dusting wand, which I never used. It had loaded the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. There were vacuum tracks on the living room rug. I found the packing materials it had come with bundled into the trash; it had broken down its cardboard box for recycling. At dinner time, it settled at the other end of the kitchen table, dimmed its headlights and waited while I ate my Weight Watchers Chicken Mesquite microwave dinner. Later we watched The Big Bang Theory together. I thought it wanted to follow me into the bedroom when I was ready to go to sleep, but I turned at the door and pointed at the hall closet. It flashed its brights and rolled obediently away.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



FullMetalAttorney

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Reply #1 on: April 13, 2015, 06:07:08 AM
I didn't really care for this story. So the author posits a world where human companionship can be replaced by machines? Big deal. We're already there. Where's the twist? Where's the big-picture societal change? Where, really, is any hook to make this interesting?

And if a machine as truly useful as this one was available, one that could do all your household chores for you and even cook for you, then its appeal wouldn't be limited to single women, as the story implied. Everyone would have one.



lisavilisa

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Reply #2 on: April 13, 2015, 10:15:02 AM
I agree. Given everything the robot did for her, it was one offspring away from fulfilling the traditional role of "Wife"; and as we know from "The Sea of Wives", wives are a very popular poduct



albionmoonlight

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Reply #3 on: April 13, 2015, 12:59:51 PM
We have a sense now that treating a partner like a servant is bad.  Most of that derives from the idea that it is bad for the partner.  People should be treated as equals--not servants--to their partners.

I do wonder about whether a servant-partner relationship works to the long-term detriment of the person being served.  If we really did have a world with high-end servant robots (so you don't have to feel bad about how you treat them for their sake), then I agree that most of us would get one.  But at what cost?  I think that having to cook my own dinner and raise my own kids and clean my own bathroom help me gain a sense of self-respect and help to orient me within the universe.  I would become a much more selfish and limited person without having to take care of myself.  That without taking care of myself, I would lose some capacity to care for others.

Or maybe I am just jealous of people with servant robots.



adrianh

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Reply #4 on: April 14, 2015, 12:30:28 PM
I didn't really care for this story. So the author posits a world where human companionship can be replaced by machines? Big deal. We're already there. Where's the twist? Where's the big-picture societal change? Where, really, is any hook to make this interesting?


I enjoyed it ;-) Found it amusing and, from my perspective, the twist was the last few lines. Where the bot (as I read it anyway) had made the same "mistake" as the human partner had — trying to affect the protagonists life. It had crossed the "uncanny valley" of the companion/sex-bot into something that caused the same kind of relationship problems as a "real" partner.



Chairman Goodchild

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Reply #5 on: April 14, 2015, 02:28:41 PM
I thought it was enjoyable.  The story's brevity helped it much.  It was one of those stories where if it had gone on any longer, it would have started to drag, and I think the author knew it, and kept it short and sweet.  It's not going to be on my top list, but I thought it was good for what it was.  

This is a story concept, I'm sure, that sooner or later be real, and not just a science fiction story. I guarantee it.  

« Last Edit: April 15, 2015, 01:01:42 PM by Chairman Goodchild »



HeartSailor

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Reply #6 on: April 16, 2015, 01:00:30 AM
This story has elements of horror in it for me.  Maybe horror isn't the right word...it's just that it pointed out a potential "fatal flaw" in the character of humanity.

What do people do best?  What does it mean to be human?  It means (and this list is by no means complete) that we are creative, ambitious, and that we make the most out of the little that we have on a daily basis.  Some of the greatest moments in our lives exist in the small daily triumphs that make up every day struggles.   Now enter a "thing" that does everything for us.  Cooks.  Cleans.  Redecorates.  We didn't even begin to see all of the capabilities of this robot.  Was there a child monitor mod?  How about a "do your job" mod?  Great! Life is a permanent vaca!  I don't have to cook, I don't have to clean, I don't have to try and relate to another quirky, imperfect human...

And all of the sudden, I am no longer a human.  I am less than human.

I am a kept animal, every desire provided to me by a Caretaker.  How long until I am put out for breeding?  How long until I am simply put out? 

The protagonist in this story, while never overtly saying so, became very uncomfortable with the notion of "being kept."  That notion is one which, fortunately, might cause many of us to rebel.  And perhaps even more frighteningly, many to rejoice.

This is a story about what we might really give up in the future.   The protagonist, thankfully, figured it out.

Horror?  Humor?  Hmmm...

-HS

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.  Thomas Merton


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Reply #7 on: April 16, 2015, 04:55:42 PM
I thought it was good, and well-kept to be brief.  I didn't quite understand why her turnaround at the end, but I like adrianh's interpretation of the crossing of the uncanny valley, makes sense witih the title too.

I laughed, and I did feel some unease along the liens of what HeartSailor said about using this thing as a tool to avoid connecting with any other human beings and how that's a sadly plausible and horrifically effective consumer product.



matweller

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Reply #8 on: April 17, 2015, 02:42:56 AM
You know, I was thinking about this some the other day and I wonder what your thoughts would be. We think of people today as being anti social and as using technology as a crutch to avoid real interaction. I get the distinct impression that in the Baby Boomers' generation, the workplace was much less productive; that bosses expected people to get up and socialize and waste a significant percentage of the day socializing in person and schmoozing over the phone. These days, your workplace may not fire you for looking at Facebook for 5 minutes, but they're sure as hell going to log it, and if you do give them any trouble when it's your time to go, you better believe they're not paying severance. And forget personal interaction. Now people monitor each other's travel to the bathroom like they're all 5th grade hall monitors and taking an extra minute here and there will translate to the difference between the 3% max raise and the 1.5% bullnisht you'll be getting. In a climate like that, is phone texting and a quick status update or two anti-social, or is it a whisper between the bars of your cell? Is it productivity-wasting, or is it passing a note in class? Breaking the rules to communicate. Technological subversion.

I don't know. Maybe it's just because I was in my basement too long the other day. There's radon down there. And sometimes a cat.



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Reply #9 on: April 17, 2015, 08:39:42 PM
Hmmm...  I guess I don't know what to say in response to that because, my workplace hasn't been like that.  I don't shmooze a lot, but I do take the occasional break to get out of my engineer hermit crab shell once in a while.  Social networking isn't heavily policed as long as there's not a big issue with deadlines being missed.  I probably go to bathrooms more often than average (especially if I'm deep in thought on a programming problem, sometimes the short walk to the bathroom without my hands at the keyboard encourages an intuitive leap) but I've never been criticized for it.

Any lack of communication I do have is by my own preference, and even in my office of engineers I socialize significantly less on average than most people.  I don't go with the lunch crowd because it's expensive and it's time I have to make up.



shanehalbach

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Reply #10 on: April 30, 2015, 12:59:31 AM
Quote
especially if I'm deep in thought on a programming problem, sometimes the short walk to the bathroom without my hands at the keyboard encourages an intuitive leap

This works for me too. I don't know how many problems I've solved at the urinal.  :P

Of course it also works to explain something to a coworker. I nearly almost always trail off with an, "oh, never mind, I think I just figured it out..."


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Reply #11 on: April 30, 2015, 01:44:27 PM
Quote
especially if I'm deep in thought on a programming problem, sometimes the short walk to the bathroom without my hands at the keyboard encourages an intuitive leap

This works for me too. I don't know how many problems I've solved at the urinal.  :P

Of course it also works to explain something to a coworker. I nearly almost always trail off with an, "oh, never mind, I think I just figured it out..."

Yes, that's a good technique, too.  :)  Forces a different structure of thought and sometimes things just snap into place.



hardware

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Reply #12 on: June 03, 2015, 08:20:40 AM
This was fun, and for me it was really the extremely brief mother-daughter exchanges that made it worthwhile. So much in so few words. There is also something in here about technology encouraging our less flattering sides which was presented without getting too didactic, which is always appreciated.



Devoted135

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Reply #13 on: June 06, 2015, 01:02:08 PM
So behind on commenting...

I enjoyed the style and tone of this one, but the last third of the story made it a miss for me overall. I do wish I could have a robot to vacuum and clean bathrooms for me though. :P



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Reply #14 on: June 08, 2015, 02:45:15 PM
So behind on commenting...

I enjoyed the style and tone of this one, but the last third of the story made it a miss for me overall. I do wish I could have a robot to vacuum and clean bathrooms for me though. :P

For the former there's always the Roomba! 

I don't know of a bathroom cleaning one, though, alas.



DragonChick

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Reply #15 on: June 18, 2015, 03:39:25 PM
I wouldn't mind a robot that does all my chores for me. More time doing things I love instead of things I hate would make me feel more human not less. I would even let it redecorate, but then my bathroom is in desperate need of a makeover :)

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