That Old Phillies Fold
Today’s New York Times has an article on the quest for better robots, specifically robots that can take care of stuff humans really don’t want to do. The story mentions a group of students at UC Berkeley who’ve developed a prototype they call “Brett,” for “Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks.” The first of the tedious tasks they set Brett to was folding laundry, which Brett demonstrates in a YouTube video.
This is idiocy. In the rankings of Tedious Tasks, folding laundry doesn’t even make the list.
Folding laundry is, in fact, one of the few household chores I enjoy. You can watch a Phillies game and fold laundry at the same time. You barely have to pay attention to amass a tall stack of neatly aligned t-shirts or towels or shorts. Laundry-folding actually provides the perfect excuse to sit in your living room for three freaking hours on a gorgeous summer day; by the time Michael Stutes or Antonio Bastardo comes on, every inch of the sofa is covered in carefully creased jeans and properly paired socks.
I can understand, though, why the Berkeley kids would choose laundry-folding as their primary robot goal. If my own kids are any indication, no teenager today has ever folded a single shirt or sheet or hoodie. On the contrary, instructed by irate parents to take that goddamn pile of clothes up to their rooms, they do so, then dump them on the floor, where all said parents’ folding promptly melts into a cotton muddle. Folding laundry is, to them, mysterious and futile, an endeavor so utterly Sisyphean that it causes them to question our sanity: “Night after night she watches that stupid, pointless game while she folds clothes we’re just going to throw on the floor. What could be crazier than that?”
If the Berkeley crew were genuinely interested in relieving tedium, they’d teach their robot to scrub toilets, or wash down kitchen floors, or get the mildew and soap scum off bathroom tiles. But how could a college kid do that? They’d have to know how themselves. Besides, that sort of stuff is so yucky. At least when you fold laundry, it’s clean.
Oh, and that YouTube video? It’s speeded up 50 times, since watching it any other way is excruciating. Which is sort of the way my kids feel about baseball.