No one likes to work on a weekend. No one.
Yet on the 7th of April, a blazing hot Sunday filled with eye-blinding sunshine and heat that had arisen from the tarmac, I happily traded my gaming dungeon (my room) for a four-hour interview and video-shooting for Connectome World.
It was an overall strange experience for me because I had never been enthusiastic about working on weekends. Yet, what excited me as the Creative Associate of Connectome must have been the main theme of the interview which I had been dying to ask parents:
Would you ever replace your child with a robot?
Children as I know them, are the devil incarnate who scream and cry while rolling on the floor, make you fork out money faster than you can say hole-in-the-pocket and worst of all, employ emotional blackmail with their needy, begging eyes.
I would never want to make or raise one. Ever.
However, if you asked me if I would be interested in having a child without going through labour pains, who wouldn’t require nappy changing, was always respectful and could be as smart as Vitalik Buterin, David Hanson or Adele Goldberg, why not?
But wait a moment, was this my personality flaw of constantly needing to be in control? Could it be that I am not acceptable of failures in situations where I have the ability to influence?
With such thoughts in mind, I gripped my microphone nervously and began approaching people.
The first three parents I approached had the same tired-of-life look on their faces. I concluded quickly that the tiny monsters running around them were the results of their loss of vigour and smiled as I walked towards them, thinking that they would give me assurance that I was not an anomaly.
The tides however, turned on me soon enough.
“Naughty? Oh, always.”, said the Spanish lady with a smile.
“Yes, they don’t study when I tell them to.”, nodded the Indian mother happily.
“Yah, they can get very naughty when I’m not looking.”, piped the fashionable father cheerfully as he kept one eye on the curious imps watching him from a distance.
I nodded along, pretending to understand his frustrations as a parallel thought ran in my brain:
Am I missing something? Why did all the parents look so happy talking about how their kids drove them crazy?
I wasn’t observing this wrong. Despite their tired faces and whining, smiles returned to their faces when they talked about how naughty their children were.
Not wanting to make any conclusions yet, I kept this in mind as the interview team moved on to other parts of Orchard.
My next targets were good-looking girls and boys who obviously did not have children yet. Surely they would think that robot children would be a better fit for our YOLO lifestyles?
But no. The responses from the youth brimming with energy, the respectable pillars of our society, disappointed me. Commenting either on how it would be a huge emotional loss to have a child who did your bidding all the time or how a robot child might be interesting but scary, none of the youth interviewed displayed any interest in having a human-like robot in replacement of a child.
We came to Takashimaya where a couple sitting by the fountain caught my eye. Marital bliss was oozing out of them as they chatted with each other over bubble tea and played with their baby in the pram.
The odds were against me, but I liked a good challenge. Striding up to them with large and confident steps, I was ready to shoot them with leading questions.
As with the other parents, the couple smiled as they relayed episodes of their elder child being naughty. Perhaps being young parents, they seemed to be even more proud of the problems they were having than the more mature parents that I had interviewed earlier on.
In a bid to convince myself that they were not being honest with themselves, I threw out my final question out to the happy couple.
“Would you ever replace your children with robots who looked exactly like them?”
Silence. Stunned expressions.
“You know, the robots would never make you angry, and grow up to be exactly what you wanted them to be- lawyers, or doctors or even the prime minister…”
I trailed off because the couple looked indignant. My heart thumped loudly in my chest when they spoke.
“No, that would be so weird…”, the lady started.
“Yeah, really weird. We would never do that.”, the husband followed before cooing at his baby.
Parents: 10. Me: 0.
I had given up by now. The responses would all be the same. But I still had to do my job, and we were missing an interview in Japanese which I had been tasked to do as well, so we headed to Don Don Donki to look for unsuspecting Japanese parents.
Over there, we rounded up the interviews with extra questions on advice from parents to parents and while I was impressed with the insights of gentle nurturing and the teaching of morals from young to ensure that one would be a respectable adult, I was not extremely pleased to hear that we shouldn’t treat robots in the same way as children since robots did not have emotions.
(I know, I know. Fellow A.I lovers may voice your unhappiness about that statement in the comments below and I shall be happy to back you up there.)
My face showing it all, the very defeated me gave a closing summary of the general public’s opinion before heading off to buy a fortune’s worth of expensive food, mini furniture and toys for my hamsters. I know what you’re gonna ask about furbabies and robots, but let’s not go there.
If you, dear reader, also belong to ‘the other side’ which is unappreciative of the idea of robot children, we can agree to disagree, but the next time your child makes you angry or if you encounter a wailing child in a restaurant, remember that there is always another option out there…