Practical Home Robots Will Not Serve You

Jul. 24, 2022 [technology] [proprietary]

Most consumer robotics of the near future will probably function a whole lot more like Aibo, the subscription hostage robot, than like the Jetson’s robotic butler. This is because, like with all consumer technology, these robots will be designed and sold by rent-seeking psychopaths. Before accepting a practical robot into your home, there are some basic questions to be asked; Is the processing being done onboard the robot? Or is it connecting out to a master server? Does the robot include anti-features, anti-tampering, DRM, subscriptions and just generally attempt to control what you can and cannot do with it? Here are some things to consider.

For robots to interact with an environment, they must map (or at least sense) their environment. So whole scans of your home will probably be taken by the robot which gets sent to a master server and datamined (because why do things locally when there’s money to be made?!). They will likely query a remote server for natural language processing and intelligent response. And, at first, the robot might seem like your personal caretaker. But give it enough time and authorities will surely find utility in turning domestic robots into agent Smith whenever it’s convenient. I hope you’re all caught up on those taxes, criminal!

And if you think that sounds like pure lunacy, that’s because it is. Allowing the tech that takes up such an intimate and trusting role in your life to be black boxed, proprietary and non-user controlled in design is just asking for trouble. One may retort “Surely, nobody will accept this.” but just look at what people are willing to tolerate today. Most people already carry Stalin’s dream around in their pockets. So just as with computers today, if you want a robot that is going to respect you, you’re going to have to DIY.

There are some excellent books on personal robot hacking such as Robot Builder’s Bonanza, though dated, along with it’s companion book Robot Builder’s Sourcebook. I’m sure that with all the single board computers becoming prominent that there are many newer robotics material as well. Anyone looking to start such an endeavor isn’t left to invent the wheel either. I am, myself, evaluating the options available through Robot Operating System (ROS), of which you just might find metapackages already in your distro repository.