Attack of the Robots

Are our machines really out to get us?

By Marilyn L. Pinsky

Vacuum robot acting up: “I would have kicked it, but it was looking at me funny and I was afraid.”
Vacuum robot acting up: “I would have kicked it, but it was looking at me funny and I was afraid.”

Not wanting to be overly neurotic about this whole artificial intelligence (AI) thing, it wasn’t until the fourth incident happened that I got worried that my machines were in cahoots against me.

First, one smoke detector started chirping around 7 at night. After checking that nothing was wrong, I felt I could sort of ignore it until the morning, as it was in the lower level of the house and my hearing’s not that great anyway.

I admit that after waking up and trying to detach the wires to stop the beeping probably wasn’t a good idea, because then all four smoke detectors joined the chorus. Two hours of horrible screeching and three lovely firemen in full firefighting attire later, the cause was determined to be a bad smoke detector that had outlived its useful life.

Then my faithful Kitchen Aid mixer turned against me.

I was making these great gluten-free shortbread cookies that have a really thick batter, and somehow, when I went to remove the bowl, it was stuck in the base. After applying four ice packs, two hot towels, two doses of mineral oil (to the mixer, not me) and five hours later, it finally came unstuck.

The vacuum robot was the next to last straw.

Normally, it does a pretty good job running around and vacuuming the house. However, it had gone missing for two days and when I finally found it, by tripping over it where it had gotten stuck halfway under the sofa, it was dead. I couldn’t make it charge for two days until I was told that I had put it in its charger backwards. I know I didn’t do that. It was just trying to make me look bad. I would have kicked it, but it was looking at me funny and I was afraid.

The final straw was literally a straw.

I clean my kitchen counters with vinegar and water in a pump spray bottle and the pump just stopped spraying. I put the straw thing in, took it out, turned it around, cut off the bottom, stuck a skewer in it in case something was stuck — nothing. I hated it. I threw it out. It is atoning for the sins of the mixer, the vacuum and the smoke detectors. A sacrificial lamb comes in many forms.

And on another subject — memory and winkles.

• Memory — being home this winter for the first time in a long time, I dug out my old cross-country ski clothes. When I put on the black turtleneck, even though I hadn’t worn it for more than 10 years, I automatically put a tissue in the back because I remembered it itched. I cut the labels out of all my clothes because they’re scratchy, but in this case, it had still itched and I needed to use a tissue to keep it off my neck. So why am I obsessing about this shirt? Because, how, out of all my 20 look-alike black turtlenecks, could I remember the feeling of that one shirt itching after not wearing it for 10 years …  particularly when I can’t remember where I put the car keys a day ago? And, after about 30 years of owning this shirt (for those of you who don’t have clothes older than your children, you won’t understand) why did it occur to me only now, and many tissues later, to just wear it inside out so it wouldn’t itch?

Wrinkles — not wearing makeup for months at a time was a great luxury during the pandemic. Eyebrow pencil, blusher and lipstick were only for major Zoom events, maybe 10 times total. And the best is the Zoom feature that smooths out wrinkles. I love myself on Zoom. It’s like having a younger me. Only I’m a little concerned that when I finally see people in person that I’ve been Zooming with for months, they won’t know who I am. I wonder if Dorian Gray was not looking into a mirror, but was actually using an early prototype Zoom filter?