Noelle rushed through the pedestrian traffic towards the university campus. She didn’t find it surprising to see a robot walking a dog. The year was 2984, and Modernization had become as normal as cars, electricity, and the sun. Had she been paying attention, she would have seen a robot riding a bicycle next to her.
Since she was running late and would arrive late to class whether or not she walked faster, Noelle stopped at the Bot Cafe to buy a cup of coffee.
“Good morning, Noelle,” said the robot attendant in a pleasant voice, “Do you want the usual?”
“Yes, please,” Noelle answered. Noelle smiled at it even though the robot didn’t have a mouth.
Noelle watched the robot as it gracefully prepared her coffee. Noelle felt modern to be living in these times. She didn’t even have to tell the attendant how she liked her coffee.
She was also curious about the past. While she waited, she thought of her great-great grandmother’s diaries. She’d found them the previous night and was up reading them till 2 a.m., so she’d overslept. She wondered how her great-great grandmother would react to this scene. She wondered of a time when human attendants were the norm.
I could tell the customer service attendant was having a bad day. I’d asked for 3 creamers in my coffee, and she told me they were out in the most business-like matter.one of Noelle’s great-great grandmother’s diary entries
Do robots have bad days? Noelle wondered. She couldn’t remember if she’d ever heard a robot laugh. How could this robot laugh without a mouth?
Lost in thought, Noelle realized that the robot was standing in front of her and had already given her the total.
“Your total is 1.95,” repeated the robot, “Do you still want to buy the coffee?”
“Yes, of course,” said Noelle.
When Noelle arrived to class, the robot professor was in mid lecture. Without wanting to draw so much attention to her lateness, she sat in one of the chairs near the door.
The professor asked a question. Someone next to her answered. When she heard the voice, she looked up surprised. She’d sat next to a robot student.
She shouldn’t have been this surprised. In effort to normalize robots, the government had created a three-step plan to integrate robots into society. The first step was called Integration. The goal of integration was to integrate robots into society by having them participate in human activities. They were integrated everywhere: companies, schools, hospitals.
When they became normal, other countries followed the government’s example. Then, the government started the the 2nd step of the plan called Modernization. In this step, every nation around the world competed to create the best robot. The goal of Modernization was to create a robot that would blend in with human life to the point that you couldn’t tell a robot from a human apart.
On another day, Noelle would have listened attentively to the interaction between the robots. The robots in academia were very thorough in their discussions. Listening to them usually helped Noelle get higher scores on the tests.
But today, she couldn’t help feel as though something was missing. The robot student like the attendant from Bot Cafe didn’t have a mouth. It didn’t have eyes either. Instead of eyes, it had a gray rectangular band. The band looked like a pair of sunglasses. The professor’s eyes looked more human-like, but he didn’t blink.
I can’t stop thinking about that cliche saying: the eyes are windows to the soul. Today, I met someone who looked at me the way one looks at a wonder: a solar eclipse, a waterfall, the first time one sees snow. How many times have I looked at people without really seeing them?another one of Noelle’s great-great grandmother’s diary entries
The professor and the robot student were talking about a moment in history while they made a moment in history. She wanted to share details from her great-great grandmother’s diaries. But how could she talk to robots about a time when they didn’t exist?
Suddenly, Noelle became annoyed at the the professor robot and the student robot. She craved a discussion with human beings. She regretted the day she signed up to for the research study. The university was studying the effects of robot professors on students, so she’d signed up because she needed the money.
All Noelle could think of was the world her great-great grandmother described. A world in which robots had yet to replace humans. She wanted to go to a cafe in which humans were servers. She’d heard that out in the country places like these still existed. She’d visit one before they became illegal.
After class, as she walked toward work, a group of students caught up with her. Finally, she thought. Real people. She looked for their eyes.
“Do you know where we can find the Bot Cafe?” She asked. Her voice sounded sweet and lively. Her eyes blinked. The man next to her was laughing at something the other woman said.
Noelle couldn’t believe how human these robots looked. These were by far the most human-like robots she’d seen. She thought to herself: Why can’t these robots find their way to places? Right. First Integration. Then Modernization. And finally, Humanization. Are we this close to Humanization?
Humanization, the last step of the process, meant you would never know who was human and who was a robot.
“On Third Street, next to Modern Clothes,” said Noelle.
“Thank you,” the robot said smiling. The robot’s eyes twitched. It had started sprinkling, and a raindrop had fallen on one of her eyes. More raindrops fell and completely closed the robot’s eye lids. The robot didn’t attempt to open its eyes.
The robot walked away toward her group that was already headed to the cafe. Noelle noticed a lamp post was in the way the robot was walking. Before Noelle could tell the robot to watch out, the robot stepped aside just in time to avoid crashing into it.