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Rampant robot tries to rip my clothes off

As its lithe synthetic fingers fumbled with my trouser buttons...

Kelly LeBrock Weird Science

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Things are getting steamy. My valet is trying to pull down the back of my trousers. “We’ll have these off you in a jiffy, sir,” he sings.

This is his job, after all. I mean its job: my valet is a robot.

An autonomous descendant of the ubiquitous hotel trouser press, it is designed to collect my garments as I disrobe, clean them and iron them. Hence the steam.

Clothes-washing is arguably the most boring and time-intensive of domestic chores – unless, of course, you’re Smelly Den who frequents my crusty old local pub, The Torque and Motherboard – and it is absolutely not just a first-world problem.

This is something The Jetsons got right. Clothes washing is ideal work for robots.

However, it’s a little inconvenient that my valet continues to tug away at my belt-loops, as I am in a meeting. Just as if I was having a tricky moment persuading Powerpoint to move on to the next slide, the other attendees sitting around the boardroom table wait patiently for me to sort it out in my own time so I can continue.

Except in this instance, they are politely pretending not to notice that a robot appears determined to sodomise me in front of them.

“Now now, James,” I mutter, “I’m busy.”

Wrestling my robo-valet into the corridor and telling it to wait outside, I notice all manner of mayhem taking place elsewhere on the main floor of the office.

Wastepaper bots are tearing sheets from the printer out-trays and shredding them before anyone has a chance to read anything. Out-of-control smartshopper bots are looting employees’ credit cards to buy designer goods no one wants and book Caribbean holidays they can’t afford. Screen-cleaning bots are scuttling around looking for something shiny to wash and wipe, and have been leaping on every tablet, smartwatch and bald head they can find.

Oh, how I hate "Bring Your Robot to Work" day.

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This is what the robot revolution will be like. Computers might become self-aware one day but they won’t try to overthrow humanity like an automated Dr Evil. Instead, they will probably kill us off by accident. And this accident won’t be vicious so much as idiotic, such as Skynet deciding to wash and press every pair of trousers in the world while their owners are still wearing them.

I could be wrong about this, but at least some brighter minds than mine are on the case. For example, the other week I met someone who had completed a Master’s degree in The Singularity. This must be either the most important field of study in technology today or, as I suspect, on a par with writing a PhD thesis on the Conan The Barbarian films.

There seems to be a vast disconnect between what customer-facing artificial intelligence can do and what we think its doing. Converse with a chat-bot for more than 30 seconds and you’ll understand what I mean.

In fact, I did this just now, having temporarily fallen for the hype around AI-fronted primary healthcare development. My wife mentioned that I kept going “ahem” now and again and suggested that it might be a minor medical issue rather than me just being very English. So I thought I’d consult the chat-bot health app on my smartphone.

Hello, Alistair. What can I do for you? I’m able to understand and consider the duration of your symptoms, meaning you get even better results.

I keep having to clear my throat.

Oh that’s unfortunate Alistair. Let’s try to figure this out together. What are your symptoms?

I keep having to clear my throat.

Let’s try to figure that out Alistair. Can you describe your symptoms to me?

I keep having to clear my throat.

Don’t worry Alistair. We can sort out the problem. Please describe your symptoms.

I am describing my symptoms but you don’t seem to understand them.

I thought you were but I wasn’t completely sure.

[After a long wait for another prompt but receiving none, I rephrase my symptoms...]

I clear my throat very often.

Would you say once a week or more?

Throughout the day.

Alistair, could a very low calorie diet "cure" type 2 diabetes?

[Do what? The bloody doctor’s asking me for advice, now. I rephrase my symptoms again...]

I want to cough a lot.

OK Alistair, I understand you have cough.

Yes, I have cough. I give good cough.

How long have you had it for?

A few weeks.

Based on what you’ve told me and your profile these are the most relevant conditions I’ve found:

BRONCHITIS

CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE LUNG DISEASE

[So, somewhere between having a slightly in-growing toenail and my whole leg being about to fall off]

Does this information help you?

No.

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Daily Mail readers already complain about trying to hold conversations with real doctors and nurses whose command of the English language is tenuous at best. Try talking to your bozo AI doctor: you’ll soon be begging to speak to that Nigerian GP you casually dissed.

Despite all the excitement surrounding robotics – which is warranted – the AI element is the weak link and remains fantasy. I tend to agree with Christian Wolmar’s take on autonomous cars: predictions of an imminent roll-out of self-driving vehicles are at odds with reality. The risk is too great: that is, machines still can’t calculate risk quickly, smartly or accurately enough.

That’s not to say autonomous cars won’t appear on our roads but that they probably won’t be autonomous in the first place. They'll be conventional cars with lots of driving assistance tech – for parking, for staying in lane, for navigating a traffic jam.

An AI could drive a vehicle entirely autonomously one day but it won’t be any time soon. If we did roll out self-driving vehicles in the next few years, the machines would play an even worse game of bumper cars than humans do now.

But that’s not what people want to believe. It’s so much more fun to imagine technology has pushed into science fiction.

This was confirmed by one of those daft polls that did the rounds recently. Apparently a quarter of young people would “happily date a robot”.

Wow, they’d go out with a partner constructed from computer chips and cybernetics! Amazing!

Not so amazing given that even back in the 1970s, plenty of not-so-young men have been known to have a partner constructed from inflatable latex, “real hair” and three access points.

All that the survey is telling me is that young people today think The Terminator is a likely scenario, Ex Machina is happening now and that Weird Science is a documentary.

Well, wouldn’t you, if someone suggested a mid-1980s Kelly LeBrock would go out with a pudgy, spotty twat like yourself? We’d believe anything the marketing guys choose to program into us.

We are the robots.

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Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. Despite everything, he dearly wishes all the AI robotics hype was true. He also wishes tech investors would spend less on autonomous cars and a bit more on developing robo-valets.

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