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I’m all for AI as long as I can have a robot to do all the housework

Emer McLysaght: I dearly wish it could hang out the clothes and defrost the freezer, but I’ll draw the line at asking it to write my next book

My mother’s cat is a recent enough transplant from Dublin. He’s taken to the countryside life quite well, exploring the fields and roasting himself alive in front of the stove. In his first weeks living in his new digs he showed his appreciation by bringing home a few “gifts”, ie the remains of a small rabbit and a glassy-eyed mouse. Neither offering made it into the house – Roger’s cat flap only allows him access to the garage. However, a friend was recently not so lucky when her two young cats on separate occasions carried a feathered friend and a small rat straight through the flap and into the kitchen. Chaos ensued as the cats sat back and observed how ungrateful their human peons were.

There is a new device that could have avoided the situation. A Swiss start-up company has developed a cat flap that uses AI to not only recognise your cat’s face, but can also tell if the cat has any prey in its mouth. If so, the flap will not allow entry until it returns empty-mouthed. Finally, a use for AI that doesn’t involve taking our jobs or miring us in ethical concerns, unless the cat is particularly fussy about privacy and its digital pawprint.

As a writer, recent hype around AI has been disconcerting. Using a computer to produce art or text is one of the easiest ways to demonstrate how generative artificial intelligence works. The technology is moving so quickly that it’s tempting to catastrophise about how soon millions of jobs could be replaced. Yes, AI can bring advancements in medicine, never needs a day off and is accurate and efficient. However, it lacks creativity and empathy, comes with endless ethical concerns, and encourages more and more over-reliance on technology. Concerns aside though, I would consider being “all watched over by machines of loving grace” as long as I could have a robot to do the housework.

It’s all well and good demonstrating how AI can write a book in the style of Lord of the Rings or create a “deepfake” video of Simon Harris perfecting a hip hop TikTok dance, but where are the robots that can figure out the meals for the week, get the best deals at the supermarket and then come home and clean the toilet and dust the leaves of the monstera plant?


‘The human input required by AI means that it may well never be feasible to own a robot that can handle the intricacies of housework’

On a recent trip to my childhood home to cat-sit Roger, I observed with amusement as the robot lawnmower trundled around the front garden. It spends all day going out and back to its charging station, eventually reaching all patches of grass and keeping it at an even level. While on holidays my mother checked in regularly, not only on Roger but also on Gladys, the robot lawnmower. “She got stuck under the hedge,” I replied. Her bumper became wedged by some discarded slates and she needed to be rescued. I felt quite sorry for her out there under the hedge in the rain, before reminding myself that she’s a machine that doesn’t feel the cold and doesn’t know that there’s a Four in the Bed omnibus about to start on the telly.

Gladys uses a guide wire on the perimeter of the garden to find her way around. Essentially, she’s a basic bitch. There are companies now producing lawnmowers that use AI to detect patches of grass that need to be mowed without the need for boundaries or wires. One such US-based company called Electric Sheep says its mowers use “common sense” to cut grass. What the robots are really using is information inputted by humans to then analyse their surroundings and react accordingly.

The human input required by AI means that it may well never be feasible to own a robot that can handle the intricacies of housework. Cleaning might seem like a repetitive and mind-numbing task but it requires so much physical and mental activity. When we’re cleaning, we’re constantly checking and readjusting and resourcing. Could it be that the ultimate robot house servant is beyond our reach unless we find a way to make them dangerously sentient?

I do have a robot in my house that gives me a thrill. My little robot hoover trundles around much like Gladys, doing a middling job of picking up dust and dirt and only getting stuck about every six minutes. Whether it improves my efficiency is up for debate given I love to just watch it bumbling around, leaping up to divert it from cables and rug edges. I dearly wish it could hang out the clothes and defrost the freezer, but I’ll draw the line at asking it to write my next book.