Mrs. Roboto

From today’s New York Times article headlined “In a Wired South Korea, Robots Will Feel Right at Home”:

By 2007, networked robots that, say, relay messages to parents, teach children English and sing and dance for them when they are bored, are scheduled to enter mass production. Outside the home, they are expected to guide customers at post offices or patrol public areas, searching for intruders and transmitting images to monitoring centers.

If all goes according to plan, robots will be in every South Korean household between 2015 and 2020. That is the prediction, at least, of the Ministry of Information and Communication, which has grouped more than 30 companies, as well as 1,000 scientists from universities and research institutes, under its wing. Some want to move even faster.

As mentioned recently, I’m going through David Mitchell’s novels in prep for an interview later this month. This passage from Cloud Atlas, in which Korean ‘clone’ Sonmi-451 is debriefed by authorities following a breakout of sorts, came to mind:

But that’s fifty days of unbroken solitary confinement!
Fifty glorious days, Archivist. My mind traveled the length, breadth, and depth of our culture. I devoured the twelve seminals: Jong Il’s Seven Dialects; Prime Chairman’s Founding of Nea So Copros; Admiral Yeng’s History of the Skirmishes; you know the list. Indices in an uncensored Commentaries led me to pre-Skirmish thinkers. The library refused many downloads, of course, but I succeeded with two Optimists translated from the Late English, Orwell and Huxley; and Washington’s Satires on Democracy.

And you were still Boom-Sook’s thesis specimen – putatively – when he returned for the second semester?
Yes. My first autumn arrived. I made a secret collection of the flame-colored leaves that drifted on the faculty roof. Autumn itself aged, and my leaves lost their colors. Nites became icy; then even daylite hours frosted up. […]

Did it snow?
Ah, yes, snow. The first snows fell very late last year, not until twelfth-month. I sensed it before I woke in the semidark. Snowflakes haloed the New Year fairies decorating the courtyard windows: entrancing, Archivist, entrancing. Undergrowth beneath the neglected statue in the courtyard drooped under the weight of snow, and the statue itself assumed a comic majesty. I could watch the snow fall from my previous prison cube, and I miss it here. Snow is bruised lilac in half-lite: such pure solace.

You speak like an aesthete sometimes, Sonmi.

Perhaps those deprived of beauty perce