THE NEWEST THING on the technological horizon are machines that can talk. Honest, I read it in the New York Times. Corporations like Texas instruments are right now putting together memory chips of speech and, according to the article, it's going to revolutionize the semiconductor industry. We are going to be getting talking toys, talking ovens, dishwashers, dryers, televisions, smoke alarms and calculators.
Now I have nothing against talking ovens and dishwashers and all the rest of it, but I would simply raise the question of who needs it? When I tell the oven to go on at a specific time, I don't need it to start badgering me about whether I'm going to be late getting home, and I don't need it to tell me that the chicken really ought to be cooked another half hour since it was pink the last time I cooked it. And can you imagine having a dishwasher asking you whether you really rinsed the plates thoroughly?
The people planning this whole thing, I can tell you right now, are being very shortsighted.
There are a lot more construcive things to be done with talking machines. If they played their cards right, they could revolutionize the working mother industry.
They could invent a mother robot who would be kept in the kitchen and programmed to do all the necessary household functions that working mothers aren't home to do. For example, at 3:30 p.m., when the kids get home from school, the mother robot could be standing in the kitchen ready to greet them. The robot, looking like the new Betty Crocker, would be called M-1R-2 and this is how the conversation would go:
"Hi, kids. How are you?
"Okay, M-1-R-2." The kids open the refrigerator door. "How come there's never anything decent to eat in the house?"
"Oh, come. Look around in there. I'm sure you find something . How about a piece of fruit?" Kids settle on fruit. "So, kids, tell me. How was school today?"
"What did you do?"
"Look, I'm sick and tired of spending all that tax money on education and having you kids come home from school everyday and tell me you did nothing . Now go and clean your rooms up and get started on your homework by 6 o'clock."
"Six o'clock? That doesn't give us any time to play. Geez, M-1-R-2, you're worse than our mother."
"Don't criticize your mother. Your mother's a wonderful woman."
You, the working mother, would of course be the one to program the robot's conversation to your specifications and it is important not to be shy or self-effacing with the new technology. You have a golden opportunity here for some creative brainwashing at the same time that you, personally, do not have to listen to any backtalk. Do not, in other words, hesitate to have the robot mention frequently to your children that you are nothing short of a saint, that they ought to honor you and respect you, and should make plans to support you in your old age.
Your robot could be programmed to answer the phone and screen solicitors, heavy breathers and bill collectors. Your robot could do things you would never dare do yourself. Your robot could be programmed to tell solicitors who call at the dinner hour to drop dead, something you are far too polite to do, personally. Your robot could be programmed to tell your kids about sex.
Your robot could be programmed to deal with most minor children's illnesses, particularly those that do not involve large quantities of blood, broken bones, or extremely high temperatures. If the child complains of a sore throat, for example, the robot can tell it to gargle with salt water. (Be sure to program a gargling reminder into the robot, as children are notoriously sneaky about avoiding gargling.)
Should you have to work later than your husband, the robot could easily be programmed to greet him for you when he arrives home. It might not be quite the same as your warm embrace, but then it's better than nothing. As soon as he walks in the door, M-1R-2 could greet him with a cheerful "hello, darling, how are you? How was your day at work?"
"Fine. What's for dinner?"
"Yes, again. We can't afford anthing else."
"Look, don't take this persnally, but it seems to me that between you and our working mother you two might be ableto figure out something besides chicken to serve for dinner."
"Look. Say what you will of me, but don't speak harsly of our working mother. Look at all the things she does for this family.The woman's a saint. You're a truly lucky man to have found that woman."
Your robot could be programmed to listen sympathetically to your husband's complaints about his work, his commute, his car and his lawnmower, so that by the time you come home he is relaxed. And best of all, your robot could be programmed so that when you walk in the door at night, dead tired from a long day at the office and the hard commute home, there would be at least one voice there that would ask: "How are you?"