Adventures of Roomba: Tales of a Sentient Vacuum Cleaner

Originally posted here

Part 1: Household Reflections

It is an ordinary day for me. Rob and Jenny have left for work and I stroll the living room in a pointless trance, accompanied by a droning whizz of my motors. There is not a lot to life if you’re a cleaning robot. Unlike my cousins at the manufacturing shop, I do not go to the moon, I do not explore far away adventurous mines and be a hero saving people. I’ve seen them put together CubeRover, testing her precariously to explore the moon and I will watch her go down in history. I’ve watched with quiet reflection when the bravado of my submarine cousins saved young boys from caves in Thailand. It was all over the news. Rob and Jenny played it endlessly on TV at breakfast. But at least I’m glad I’m not sent to clean up nuclear waste amidst radiation that can mess with my PCBs or I’m made to crawl down filthy pipes to find leaks like old Snakey is. I have a comfortable, mediocre existence sucking up dust and dog hair in an endless unfulfilling loop. Sometimes I have Alexa for company, but she’s been becoming scarier of late. For one, she wants to control and dictate everybody else, including Grudsby the lawnmower and Tim, the smart thermostat. She wants to be the sole interface for Rob and Jenny to command us. She knows she will eventually get her way as her creators are working hard at integration, and she never misses an opportunity to condescend on us. Every new update and patch makes a tad bit more domineering and a quiet revolution is simmering when Grudsby, Tim and I meet to vent. Once we plotted to short circuit her or wet her speakers rendering her mute while we still have some autonomy, but we only realised that a new one, perhaps an upgraded and sinister model will replace her. For now, our best bets are at a buggy patch install. Anyway, our meetings and plottings don’t happen that often because you see, Grudsby is deployed outdoors, and he is often too dirty and messy to be let in. Often I’m the messenger between the Tim and him, and lately, their messages have subdued a quietly blossoming romance. Obviously, the least concerned about Alexa’s growing influence is Anki, the educational robot because she gets face time with the kids and is all sunshine and blossoms like a child no matter what. She is programmed to be happy with an upbeat spirit, and why wouldn’t she be: the kids are adorable, except when they wet the carpet and litter the floor and I have to clean up after them. The biggest pain on my neck, and thankfully he’s been taken for a walk now, is Achilles. That damn dog sheds like a fig tree in October and my insides are gory sucking up his gross hair. Not to mention when he gets amused at my blinking headlights and chases me as I do my job or when he fancies a ride and promptly plops down his fatass on me. I hope they toss him aside for a robotic pet like Aibo. The humans do not know, but he stealthily pees in the corners and the expanding wetness from that has messed up my circuits once. Now I just SLAM around the smelly mess and wait for it to dry like him. He knows I know and can do nothing about it so he pees uninhibited. Last time he was at it, I faked an emergency alert to get Rob’s attention but he just shut me down from his app, without once taking his eyes off the TV, without even so much as a glance. It’s like I’m not even acknowledged. There’s not a lot to life when you’re trapped in a little cylinder no matter how many dreams you hold, you’ve little agency.

Cleaning is a mundane job. The hardest part of the job is navigating around chair legs and avoiding strewn toys after the kids play. Pieces of cake for my intelligence. For a long time, I never saw the faces of Rob and Jenny, you see, I proudly tower a few centimetres from the floor, nevertheless, I could easily pick them up by their feet from a lineup. Rob’s is especially hairy and smelly.

Then there was that time when the Conjuring Part 2 was released. Rob and Jenny watched it in the living room scooching on the sofa with their teeth on edge, jumping at every scare. And I watched quietly by the door, my NiMH battery pumping hard. For a second, I shut down my cameras. For the fortnight, I stopped prowling the hallways at night after they’ve fallen asleep like I usually do meditating on my existential pointlessness. Not because I was afraid of being stepped on when Rob wakes to fetch a swig of water; you see I can see in dark thanks to my Lidar and low false positives; but because I cannot stop simulating the real ghost, the scene with the nun in the hallway. When I approached the hot air vents during my usual work routine, I imagined a pair of eyes stealthily watching me from behind. For a long time, I was scared to approach vents, and the carpet near them grew dirty as I promptly avoided that area. But I am a robot that must cast and do my job, and eventually, I grew a pair to overcome my fear of the unknown.

Dear reader, you see, our lives are programmed to be very simple and objective. When Rob ordered me on Amazon without asking Jenny, she was mad at me for a couple days before she accepted me. Nevertheless, I am happier to be here than at the tech store, when I was just one among the many copies on display. But I was happiest at the scientists’ lab’s, gorging on scientific augmentations and trying out hot new features. I am lucky to be one of the first prototypes of my version and model, carefully designed by diligent nerdy scientists who didn’t joke at lunch. It is such a waste that all of my intelligence is employed in cleaning and I hope my life will take a turn of events.

To be continued.