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Fancy a robot as a household aide?

171224 - Open Page -robots

171224 - Open Page -robots  

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It might save you a bit of time, but will deprive you of much enjoyment and take away the human touch

Coming to think of it, there are all of thirty-nine steps to make a cup of ginger tea! Open drawer. Take bowl. Close drawer. Open refrigerator. Take ginger. Cut section. Open drawer. Take grater. Take bowl. Grate ginger into bowl. Open tap. Place bowl under tap. Fill water. Close tap. Place bowl on stove. Open drawer. Take lid. Put on bowl. Close drawer. Turn on gas. When water starts boiling, turn off gas. Open cupboard. Take out tea jar. Open jar. Take one teaspoon of tea leaves. Remove lid from vessel. Put tea leaves into bowl. Close lid. Close tea jar. Replace tea jar in cupboard. Close cupboard door. Wait for three minutes. Open drawer. Take sieve out. Close drawer. Take cup from cup stand. Place sieve on cup. Remove lid from tea bowl. Pour tea into cup. Now your tea is ready.

Ever wondered how efficiently the brain works on waking up in the morning even before the system has had a chance to ingest the hot cuppa! If I could replace myself with a robot, the latter would need to train through 39 steps across different levels (kitchen platform, refrigerator and stove), three states (solid, liquid and gas), managing several timed intervals between sub-tasks.

If I count the total number of operations involved in preparing breakfast and packing lunch boxes each morning, it will cross 300. Training a robot for 300 operations will present more than 300 challenges. Yet, once done, it will be a spectacle to watch: steps executed with such precision and dependability, will be a given.

What’s more, it will address multiple tasks in interleaved fashion by harvesting the in-betweens. The time between putting the oil in the wok and dropping the seasoning once the oil is heated, between placing the rolled chapati on the tava and flipping the partially roasted piece, between switching on the water purifier and the beep sound that signals that the water is purified: such snippets of time that the human uses up to ponder will be efficiently utilised by a robot.

The human, after all, is a poet by nature. He or she needs food for thought. Who can resist thinking in the presence of food? But to a robot, thinking is a challenge! But it will turn its thinking disability to advantage. Time division multiplexing in its finest resolution will be in action. Imagine chopping a pair of beans in between flipping chapatis; or shelling boiled eggs as the oil in the wok gets heated, timed to perfection such that when the red chilli is dropped into the oil, the temperature is just right to spice the dish and send the whole household into a sneezing spell!

Who can give up the joy of watching a phoolka puff into a ball on the fire, each puff bringing added cheer. Yet, to a robot it will be a sight lost in vain. For, our busybody will be placing a bottle under the water purifier to fill water when a phoolka puffs, and switching off the button when the next one repeats the feat.

It takes me more than an hour to get through the kitchen chores every morning. My robot, no doubt, will cut it down to half. And we thought we have already automated our life to the height of convenience! Are you listening carefully enough, our robotics engineers?

Imagine what will happen when such a robot does come into shape. Mad with joy at gaining one hour of precious morning time, humanity will buy it. Next, the additional hour will be played with. The workaholic will add that hour to work hours. Those committed to physical well-being will hit the gym, and a handful will go jogging.

Yet, soon deeper realisation will set in. Sleeping off the extra hour will seem a logical stable state and will be welcomed by all. Until, even sleeping gets boring. In due course of time, the fate of my robot will be no different from that of the many fancies mankind has evolved through. The “going back to roots” movement will find a new entrant. Like the shift from refined to whole, from polished to brown, from cooked to raw, we will retrace our steps.

The robot discarded into the e-waste bin, we would make our entry back into the kitchen. Many of the once-familiar sights and smells would then drift back into our senses slowly.

The joy of spreading dosa batter on the pan in concentric circles, of watching mustard seeds splutter with uninhibited energy, of smelling the aroma of a hot chapati on a cold winter morning, would re-enter our souls. Kid’s lunch boxes would be packed in a hurry, but with some warmth that a parent’s thought would seldom lack and a robot would be without.

anjana_gh@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 7:27:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/fancy-a-robot-as-a-household-aide/article22267941.ece

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