Asmara missed the days when she was a carefree young girl and not a mother of five. Nowadays, life was always about feeding, cleaning, changing, and managing the house. She had just spent a hectic morning scolding her maid for not keeping an eye on the rest of the kids while she had gone to drop off her eldest son to his first day of school. The maid had mumbled about being overburdened; taking care of the house chores along with naughty little ones. There was so much work to do that one pair of helping hands were simply not sufficient enough. And yet, Asmara could not afford to keep more for her house.
Flipping through the channels was boring her out until a bright ad strip at the bottom of a news channel caught her attention.
Asmara grabbed her phone and went to the website being displayed. The government had been planning to start a new program for house help many months ago, and now it was finally being declared effective. The prime minister had signed a contract with a group of engineers who claimed they had made robots capable of doing human activities such as cooking, cleaning, gardening and organizing things and could be controlled by their owners.
The best part was that since this was a new scheme, the government would be actually PAYING the first dozen people who were willing to give the robots a chance along with honest feedback!
Asmara read and reread to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Of course, a robot would be a hundred times faster and efficient, and they would get PAID!
Her husband was even more excited than herself when Asmara showed him all the details on the website that night. They filled the forms together and had their fingers crossed for what was coming up.
One month later, Mr. Kazi, head of the team who had made the robots and negotiated with the government, stood on Asmara’s doorstep with a robot-woman beside him. He was ushered in and given the warmest of welcomes, given the most extravagant tea and a lot of smiles by Asmara and her husband. He gave them the batteries and told them they would have to be changed annually. He gave them all the necessary guidelines and then got up to leave.
“Here is your payment, like the government promised. And should you have any problems with your new helper, you may call on the number available at the website. We will wait for your feedback, which we would like to receive in a few months.” Mr. Kazi smiled broadly and departed.
The Robot that stood like a statue in their living room was a mesmerizing spectacle of technology. Asmara looked just like a human. Her face was pale, smooth, and expressionless. She had dark curls tied at the back of her head. She wore a light blue shalwar kameez with dupatta, scattered with a floral pattern and white sandals. Except for a small square at the back of her neck, where the batteries were to be put, no one could tell she was a machine.
“Alright. I believe we’re ready to test her, yes?” Rauf asked. Asmara nodded tentatively.
The batteries were put into place, and then they stepped back. The Robot, only after 5 seconds, came to life. The Robot, named Ruby, blinked her eyes slowly, looked all around her, fixed her gaze onto Asmara, and smiled slowly. “Hello.” She said in a perfectly sweet and melodious voice.
They told Ruby about house chores and her responsibilities, including taking care of kids.
Ruby seemed to have an extraordinarily powerful memory and was quick to learn everything. She had a fantastic speed and could multitask as though it was a piece of cake.
The children had loved her instantly when they had been introduced to her. She was perky, intelligent, and easily socialized. She changed and washed the children, played with them, helped with Zain’s homework, cleaned up their mess, and read them stories. She was great at cooking and could tidy up a room in less than 10 minutes. She had strong hands and could move around heavy objects quickly, iron the clothes, water the plants, mow the grass, and scrub the floors until they shone.
The best part was that Ruby was never tired. At night when the children were all tucked into bed, she gave an excellent massage to Asmara for a full hour. She was good at providing pedicures, facials, and shaving hair. Asmara and Rauf had their own parlor at their fingertips too! She would oil and comb their hair also. The only duties they decided were not to be handed over to Ruby were driving and outdoor chores. Asmara was only left with the responsibility of picking and dropping Zain and caressing her children if she felt like it. She felt free and young and took to her writing again. She had been a novelist before the twins had been born, but she hadn’t had the time to touch a pen ever since.
She could jot down the ideas that kept brimming inside her and do whatever she liked.
A very shocked and disturbed Yasmin had been given her last pay that month. Life at Asmara’s had changed so much. She had regained her youthful glow, and her face was fuller, her eyes sparkling, and her smile merrier. Rauf, a foodie, had been delighted when it was discovered that Ruby can cook anything, once a recipe explained. The family enjoyed new cuisines and desserts almost every day, licking fingers and smacking their lips.
“Deeeelicious!” Rauf patted his growing belly and belched. “Wonderful, Ruby, wonderful!”
In the few hours that Ruby went up to the attic to lie on her bed, her ‘brain’ revised the events of the whole day and replayed them, analyzing along the way.
She was aware that she was a massive help to the family, and the kids loved her. The grown-ups loved her. Everyone depended on her, and that was just the way she liked it.
Time passed by. Life at Asmara’s household had become comfortable, slightly too soft, one would say. Ruby had everything under control and on time. But there was neglect and carelessness on the part of the parents. Asmara was always indulging in reading and writing or watching films, and Rauf never stopped eating once he started. His once slender figure now sagged with bulk and he looked ten years older than he was. The children had become so obsessed with their new caretaker that they barely asked for their parents’ attention.
It was as though the whole house had gone into a robotic mode, each person absorbed in their own cocoon of supposed luxury and leisure. It was only Ruby who knew what everyone needed, what was to be cooked that day, and what was going on in everyone’s lives. Ruby had asked, instead demanded, one day that she could go and get the groceries as well. Several of the trips were accompanied by Asmara herself, but Ruby was so good at speeding up and down the aisles and making up the bills that soon Asmara decided she could be trusted.
Ruby didn’t need the car, she was such an avid walker, and carrying all the shopping bags was no problem for her. She was smart at calculations and keeping track of the finances as well.
It was not until Rauf’s mother, Mrs. Baig, stopped by one day that things changed. She was surprised to see that the robot maid had maintained the house so well but was very disappointed to see her son so fat and her daughter-in-law in such an idle state. The door was answered by Ruby, she was led into the living room by Ruby, she was served a cold drink by Ruby, her grandchildren were given int her lap by Ruby. It was Ruby, Ruby, Ruby everywhere.
“You sit and drink, I will call madam.” Ruby sped up the stairs and returned with Amara at her heels.
“Salaam, mummy!” Asmara opened her arms to embrace her and sat down beside her. She could feel her mother-in-law’s eyes on Ruby, filled with loathing.
“Ruby, why don’t you go to the kitchen and start preparing lunch?”
When she was gone, Mrs. Baig started lecturing her. She seemed to be full as though the weight had been removed from a pressure cooker inside her. She did not like it one bit how the household was left totally on the responsibility of a machine and how her son and his wife were becoming indolent couch potatoes. The upbringing of children’s had laid down on a robot, and there was minimum interaction between them and their parents. Asmara felt that her mother-in-law was indeed right and, her head bowed, kept listening.
From the kitchen, Ruby listened too. It made her angry to be called a ‘machine’ and a ‘robot’ by this old woman. Ruby proudly considered herself part of the family, and she believed the other house members thought so too. She would have to deal with this old ninny.
Later that afternoon, Asmara went to pick her son because of Mrs. Baig’s admonishing. The old lady was sitting comfortably on the settee closest to the bay window, soaking in the sun and reciting on her rosary.
Ruby went to the closet in the store and fetched the washing line, a strong but thin rope on which she draped the laundry to dry on the rooftop. She tiptoed into the living room. Mrs. Baig’s was facing the window and seemed unaware of her presence. Perfect.
What happened in the next few seconds baffled poor Mrs. Baig. Ruby grabbed hold of both her shoulders, dragged her off the settee and threw her onto the floor. Immediately she jumped on top and tied her legs and arms to her body. The Robot was reliable and pinned her down ferociously so that she was unable to move. Mrs. Baig struggled and kicked, but Ruby was powerful. She snatched Mrs. Baig’s dupatta and stuffed it in her mouth. Ruby got up and dusted her hands, admiring her handiwork as Mrs. Baig lay thrashing on the floor like a fish, her eyes dripping with hatred and anger at this absurdity and her screams muffled.
Ruby dragged the wildly wriggling lady across the hall and was about to haul her down the basement stairs when the door opened, and there stood Asmara, holding son’s hand. One look at the scene and she froze in horror.
“Wh…what in the name of Lord—- “
Before she could finish, Ruby kicked and sent Mrs. Baig bumping down the stairs, who was now hysterical. She landed with a crash at the bottom. Before Asmara could do anything, Ruby plunged forward and grabbed her, tightening her arm around Asmara’s neck. She coughed and spluttered, lost control, and was on her knees. The Robot’s grip was robust and crushing her windpipes. With a kick, she sent Zain crashing in the wall. He hit his head hard and collapsed, unconscious, on the floor.
Asmara hollered with rage and flung her leg which hit Ruby in the guts. She gasped, but her grip around Asmara’s neck tightened. Asmara tried to pry the metallic fingers off her throat, but it was no use. She needed to grasp hold of an object with which she could knock the paranoid machine off herself. Ruby’s back was towards the wall. Summoning up all the energy she had in her, Asmara jolted her body roughly, simultaneously digging her fingernails into Ruby’s finger. The Robot’s grip loosened for a moment. Asmara grabbed the opportunity and sent a flying kick into Ruby’s groin. The Robot gasped and let go.
Asmara fell to the floor, wheezing and retching. She got up instantly and pushed Ruby into the wall. She collided with a loud crack, possibly indicating that a fragment inside her somewhere had broken. Asmara grappled a chair and swung it with full force at Ruby’s head. Wood against metal made a banging noise, and one of Ruby’s eyes popped out at the end of spring. The Robot lost balance and fell to the floor. Asmara jumped on top and, wrestling with the metallic monster, succeeded in pulling out the batteries from behind her neck. The Robot went limp instantly.
Asmara lay panting on the floor. She was drenched in sweat, and her throat was burning.
Then she remembered Zain and Mrs. Baig. The other children were thankfully taking their nap upstairs. She scrambled off the floor and ran to Zain. He was still working but had a huge red bump on the left side of his head. Asmara carried her boy in her arms and staggered to the basement door. She opened it and turned on the lights. At the bottom of the stairs lay Mrs. Baig, close to fainting. Asmara managed to cross the stairs and untie her mother-in-law. Mrs. Baig had received severe injuries all over her face, arms, back, and legs. Asmara was too weak to help her up the stairs. She dragged herself upstairs and managed to call the Ambulance and her husband before crumpling onto the sofa and losing consciousness.
A few days later, a van from Mr. Kazi’s office took the wretched Robot away. Asmara returned to her active lifestyle again, and Yasmin was back too. Robots, they decided we’re not a good option for household work.
‘Robots need to be designed as such that they do not harbor human feelings and the hunger for power. They should not have the capacity to think or feel or any other cognitive function.’ Rauf closed his laptop after sharing his views on the company’s website.
Link to similar stories: https://scientiamag.org/an-illustration-of-ai-evolution-in-our-lives/
Aniqa Mazhar is a graduate of QAU in Biochemistry. She has taught sciences to O levels and is currently planning for her MS in Food Technology. Aniqa’s hobbies are reading, watching movies, writing, calligraphy, long walks, and nature photography.