As if she were a character in a short story by Franz Kafka, Emily Dreyfus woke up one morning to discover she was a robot. Instead of a face, she had an iPad screen. Instead of eyes, she used a camera to guide her, though it lacked peripheral vision. Instead of a mouth, she had microphone. Her arms and legs had disappeared, replaced by a set of gyroscopically stabilized wheels, and upon these, she moved so slowly that molasses oozing in winter looked like an Indy car race.
Was she surprised? Or, horrified, as was Kafka’s Gregro Samsa in The Metamorphosis when he woke up one morning to find he’d been transformed into a giant insect? Well, no. She was an employee who lived in Boston but worked for a company in San Francisco. Emily Dreyfus was teleporting to her office through her alter ego, a robotic device she named Embot — a pile of nuts and bolts to which she became remarkably attached and grieved for when it was dismantled to make way for another model.
Since robots are the future, and after reading Dreyfus’ 14 day diary about her metamorphosis, (“The Office Robot,” The Week, December 23, 2015, pgs. 40-41.) I’ve developed a set of rules for human and non-human interface. Call it robot etiquette 101. Given the way technology is evolving, these rules could someday morph into a Robot Bill of Rights.
Etiquette for the robot
1. Avoid sneaking up on people. Remember, you don’t make noise. Humans may freak out when they discover you’re standing behind them. Adopting some bells and whistles wouldn’t hurt.
2. Learn to adjust your screen. You won’t gain any points by staring at people’s knees or their private parts, either.
3 Remember there’s a time lag between you and your colleagues. During a conference, for example, you won’t win points for butting in while your boss is telling her favorite joke.
4. Look out for corners. Remember, you have no peripheral vision.
5. Check your volume. No on will love you if you share office gossip at mega phone volume.
6. Be tolerant of your coworkers. You’re a novelty. They’ll stick their faces in your screen, check to see if you’re somewhere inside, race you down the hall, make jokes about how much weight you’ve lost, and worst of all, if you’re slow getting to a meeting, they’ll pick you up like a broom and carry you under their arms.
Advice for a robot’s co worker
1. Don’t pick the robot up and run with it. Nobody wants to be treated like a kid. Exception to the rule: when the robot has slammed into a wall or has fallen over. That can happen a lot. No peripheral vision, remember?
2. Do act normally with a robot. It has feelings even if those feeling are felt 3,000 miles away.
3. Always remember, robots aren’t perfect. But then, neither are humans.