Attendance at business conventions these days can involve being chatted up by robots. These electronic beings are sent wandering around the halls by their keepers and will engage you in pleasant, aimless conversation. The robot asks a question, you answer, and then the robot actually answers you with an all-purpose remark--one that will do irrespective of what the person has said.

A gentleman of my acquaintance recently was approached by such a robot, which asked him his name, and, when told, said, "Oh, I have a friend with that name." Then the robot asked the man where he was from, and, when he responded, the robot remarked, "Oh, yes. I visited there once. Had a nice time." And on it went, until the robot, either tiring of the conversation or wishing to pursue another contact, broke off politely, saying, "Well, I've got to be going now. Nice talking to you."

I have been thinking that a truly useful robot could be designed for the purpose of attending Washington parties. The robot would be programmed so that, with only one or two adjustments, it could last for years. Its conversation with a person would go something like this:

R: Hello. I have a feeling we've met before. And your name is?

P:Steve O'Brien.

R: Oh, yes. And what are you doing now?

P: I'm deputy assistant of the assessment division of HUD.

R:10 That must be very interesting. Especially these days. By the way, where're you from originally?


R: Oh, yes. Lots of friends there. Good town. Have you ever noticed how lmost nobody in Washington grew up here? (Robot laughs at joke.) Well, how do you think the president's doing?

P: I think he's got some problems. (Of course, Person might also say, "I think he's doing well.")

R: But of course that could change if the economy changes. What do you think about the economy?

P: I think they've got a real problem with interest rates (or "unemployment" or "inflation," as the case may be).

R: You know, it's hard to figure out whether people get more upset about unemployment or inflation. Do you think he'll run again? (This question can be erased when there is a president in office who has actually announced whether he will or will not run again. In this case, the robot goes on to the next question.)

P:Well, I . . .

R: That's interesting. I think a lot will have to do with whether she wants him to. Who do you think the other party will nominate?

P: I think Upshot has a real chance.

R: Do you think Teddy will run? (This question would have been good for the last 14 years and should be operative for at least an other 14 months. At any

point that Edward Ken nedy is actually running

for president, the

"Kennedy running" program can be tapped in, and the robot will skip the last question and proceed to the next one, which can be asked in any event.) What do you think Teddy's chances are?

P: I think he may have a chance with the Democrats, but it's one thing to get the nomination and another to win the general election.

R: May be. So, what do you make of the international situation?

P: We could be headed for trouble in Upper Volta.

R: I think the real problem is that they don't have their national security machinery in order yet. By the way, did you see Evans and Novak?

P: Yes, they were pretty rough on Jim Baker.

R: I think I know where they got that. Say, what do you make of the recent polls?

P:3 You have to remember where Carter (or "Hoover," or whoever) was at this point.

R: People tend to forget that the polls can be volatile. Have you talked to any people "out there"?

P: I was in Chicago last week. The people I talked to were very concerned about soybean futures.

R: I talked to a friend of mine in Des Moines yesterday. He said crime is a bigger issue than the politicians in Washington seem to think. I think it's important to keep in touch with what's going on "out there." Well, I'm going to get another drink. Nice talking to you. Let's have lunch.