Subtleties do not compute

June 16, 2011

The idea of robots taking over care functions for the infirm ("Are friends electric?", 9 June) reminds me of the story about the owner of an intelligent robot who planned to entertain some friends on a cold winter evening after work.

He tells the robot: "Prepare four chickens for dinner, cut the vegetables, dust the dining room, lay the table, put the radiators on, and, oh, feed the cat as well."

When the human gets back from work, he finds that the robot has dressed up four chickens and sat them in the dining room, which it has covered in two inches of dust. The dining table has been dismantled and laid on the floor, with the radiators ripped off the wall and placed on top. The house has been emptied of all traces of vegetable matter.

Fortunately for the cat, the owner did not specify to what entity she was to be fed to.

Hillary Shaw, Senior lecturer and food research consultant Department of business management and marketing, Harper Adams University College

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