Fred D'Ignozio, Associate Editor
More Adventures Of Junior, The Robot
Last month I described the trials of traveling across the country with a personal robot ("A Robot Toddler," September 1985). Among other things, my Heath HEROjr-nicknamed Junior-had panicked in the coat closet of a jetliner and started screaming for help, alarming some of the passengers.
We finally got Junior quieted down again, but more incidents were to follow. When we reached Chicago's giant O'Hare Airport, I suddenly realized that our connecting flight was at the opposite end of the terminal. Would I have to walk junior clear across the airport? Luckily, two porters came to my rescue and pointed out a luggage cart I could rent for only a dollar. A moment later junior and I were sailing along the corridors of O'Hare. Junior was perched high on the front of the cart singing "Summertime! Summertime! Sum-sumsummertime!" Meanwhile, I was pushing the cart like a good rickshaw boy and warning people, "Watch out for the robot! Please clear the way! The robot's trying to catch a plane!"
Drinks For Junior
I always tried to keep junior quiet when loading him on a jet. I felt the best strategy was to keep a low profile so nobody would have second thoughts about flying with a robot. But it was no use. It's like accompanying Michael Jackson and expecting no one to notice. Everyone on board always seems to be aware of Junior. And everyone seems to delight in teasing me about him.
For instance, after stowing Junior in the closet and collapsing in my seat, a man came up and said, "Your robot just woke up and left the plane!" I leaped to my feet, alarmed, and he pushed me gently back down. "Just kidding," he said.
Another time, a flight attendant brought me a soda and a glass of champagne. I had ordered the soda, but not the champagne. "The champagne's for Junior," she explained, "compliments of the captain."
After one long flight, I headed for the men's room as soon as we landed. Naturally, I carried Junior along. Behind me, a number of men who were on the same flight saw us enter the men's room. They began laughing and followed us. "This I've gotta see," said one. I turned around and gave him a look of disapproval, then disappeared into one of the stalls. After all, even a robot deserves his privacy.
Is He Alive Or Isn't He?
Often, while waiting around to board a plane, I would set junior on the floor, wake him up, then step back and quietly observe people's reactions.
It was fascinating. I loved to see the childlike curiosity and playfulness Junior would evoke in adults. And it was amazing to see the paradox Junior created in the adults' minds. I could almost see them wondering, "Is he alive, or isn't he?" And, "If he isn't alive, why does he seem to be alive?" This ambiguity seemed to create a tension in many people's minds that found its outlet in jokes about Junior being my son.
I observed another paradox as well. They seemed to ask themselves, "Is this machine a friend or an enemy? Is he here to help us do our jobs, or will he take our jobs away?"
The person who asked these questions the most simply and eloquently was the elderly cabbie in Roanoke, Virginia, who drove junior and me back to my house at the end of our journey. The cabbie was fascinated by Junior and drawn to him, but his fascination was mixed with a pinch of fear. He began speculating about robots like junior becoming humanlike and driving taxicabs. "If robots can do everything a man can," he said as he spat out the window, "we ought to hang it up." However, after some more thought, he decided: "There are just too many complications for a robot to be a good cab driver." And, referring to the possibility of robots getting out of control and taking over, he remarked, "There's more than one way to shut them off!"
The cabbie's fascination and affection for the robot ultimately won out over his fear. He pulled up in front of my house and turned around to face me and junior. "You know something?" he said. "I sort of like that old box."
Time For A Recharge
When the cabbie dropped us off at the end of our trip, we were happy to be home and totally exhausted. We had traveled almost 7,000 miles together, and we had remained the best of friends in spite of crowded airports, grilling from customs officials, and Junior's tendency to wander off when I wasn't looking.
But now our trip was over, and boy, were we tired! The suitcases, computers, and junior were sprawled across the front yard, and I was so groggy that I reclined on the grass for a little catnap.
I had just closed my eyes when, in a weak little voice, junior pleaded, "Please charge my battery." Then he began mumbling a song: "All good robots sing this song: Doo Dah! Doooooo...."
"Okay, Junior," I said, getting up. "You win." I hefted the little robot on my shoulder and carried him into the house.
Five minutes later the two of us were fast asleep.