Rosie the robot they ain’t

Published 2:31 pm Thursday, September 10, 2020

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Pam Stone

Just sayin


During a Zoom call with Paul to his family the conversational ball was being bandied about so frequently that attempting to keep up was nearly futile. Non-sequitors in and out of subjects were the norm but somehow the topic of babysitting came up and everyone had a story to share.

The oldies among us remembered with much laughter that when we were babysitting back in the 1970s the going rate was something like 65 cents per hour, and we vividly recalled parents griping as rates slowly crawled another dime higher. That’s right: 75 cents per hour was outrageous, wasn’t it, when it came to watching over their flesh and blood, making sure their infant was breathing steadily and their toddler had his bath safely. I don’t care how many handfuls of Charles Chips we pilfered from the can in the kitchen—that’s a bargain.

Today, I am told babysitting rates are anywhere from $10 to $20 hourly which is great money for a teenager, living at home, to earn. Why sling french fries when you can lie down on the neighbor’s couch for a few hours making far more?

Listening to a recent news report made me chillingly realize that babysitting may very well become a thing of the past. Technology, in its embrace of artificial intelligence, has been developing robotic nannies to watch children. These robots start at around $800 which, actually, is a big bang for your buck when you add up how many times you would use it over a typical nanny or babysitter. Shaped like humanoids (and we wonder why children will wake up screaming in the night), they ‘interact’ with kids and look eerily reminiscent of teletubbies.

But look, peoples: we’ve learned that even baby monitors can become hacked. There’s been some very spooky stories about that. So, it seems reasonable that a nanny robot could just as easily fall prey. A sinister force could turn them quickly from The Jetson’s Rosie the Robot into Stepford nannies, rifling through your sock drawer for valuables, stealing your supply of CBD gummies and telling your child Rudolph was harvested as soon as deer season opened.

The sad truth, however, is that these nanny robots will certainly spend more time interacting with a child than a live human teenager, who, of course, will be glued to their phone the entire evening. Thinking about it in those terms makes the whole idea far more palatable. Robots could be programmed to be quite educational—while the folks are out standing in line for the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral, Ethan and Amber could be learning introductory French, or reciting the first canto of Divine Comedy. Not such a bad thing…

With nary a potato chip missing when the parents return home.