On Roombas

by F.

Is any more evidence necessary that we live in a Golden Age? Item: iPod. Item: the MacBook. Item: the Roomba.

Yeah, this thing is amazing. And is it $10,000? No. It’s $300. And guess what? Since the Roomba is doing most of the vacuuming, you can actually take the time to move the furniture, pick up the rugs, and put the dining room chairs on top of the table so Roomba can do his magic thing under it. In other words, you can spend your cleaning time more productively, thus increasing your welfare. Last time I checked, that’s the way it’s ‘sposed to work.

Watching the Roomba also demonstrates our strong tendency to use a “theory of mind” on anything that seems vaguely intelligent. I mean, I look at this little guy and think, “Shit. He’s clever. I wonder if he has a representation of the room?” It’s impossible not to think of the Roomba as having a mind.

Is that merely a metaphor? I’m not sure. The Roomba “wants” to go over into the corner; he wants to go back to his base station and dock; he wants to be recharged. He has state. He solves problems. He makes decisions. I’m not sure he’s much less intelligent than, say, a fly. And from the Roomba to the cat to me is just a continuum.