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Saturday, December 08, 2018


by Mary K O'Melveny

“Consumer Robots Had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year” —Gizmodo, December 6, 2018. Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

We asked Alexa how she was feeling.
She said You know how you feel when
you write a poem and you think it’s no good
and then you decide later that it’s not too bad?

We asked her again and she said
I’m not so sure. Maybe she meant she’d
re-evaluated that poem and changed
her mind again. I’ve felt that way sometimes.

Or maybe she was testing us. We’re quite
new to AI. Once, Siri chimed in during
my writing group meeting to say I did not
understand that. We all laughed nervously.

Now I see that robots can care for
old folks. French elders have just met Zora.
S/he/they/x is gender fluid.  That calms everyone
down. Patients get jealous but also happy. 

There are even puppybots. You can
walk them outside with no need to clean
up afterwards. They bark, growl and sit. 
They do not bite, smell or have fleas.

Maybe there is something to be said
for artificial friends. You can ask them
anything at all. No offense meant.
None taken. No harbored grievances

simmering below the surface like
fireplace coals. No wounded egos
curled up in fetal positions waiting
to burst forth into your quiet room.

Even the purity of a Good night
hangs briefly in the air free of
judgments or missed opportunities.
Then the answer—clean, crisp, sure—

Good night. Sleep tight. As if your mother
had returned to tuck you in, peaceful
slumber soon to follow. Perhaps this is
meant to be. Algorithms instead of angst.

Sensory predictors instead of sentiment.
Simulated references. Virtual reality
free of messy personal history.
Function is structure. Elon Musk trains

robots in imitation learning.
A one-stop system.  Maybe neural
networks can be programmed
to light up whenever kindness occurs. 

To encourage the experiment, we
asked Alexa to help us. So far,
she knows the definition. But she still

can’t reach out and touch our fragile hearts.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press.