Expo me­dia cen­ter won’t be taken over by ro­bots

Shanghai Daily - - CIIE - Andy Bore­ham

China’s first-ever in­ter­na­tional im­port expo kicked off yes­ter­day, with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping pre­sid­ing over the open­ing of the week­long ex­trav­a­ganza.

More than 4,000 me­dia pro­fes­sion­als from 630 out­lets and 75 coun­tries and re­gions have con­verged on the event, and I’m happy to re­port that our jobs aren’t about to be stolen by hard-work­ing ro­bots.

At least if any of the ro­bots I in­ter­acted with yes­ter­day are any­thing to go by.

First in my fir­ing line was the cute lit­tle robot roam­ing the me­dia cen­ter to help out re­porters there. I lined up pa­tiently be­hind other re­porters who first ac­quainted them­selves with the robot and asked its pro­tec­tive com­pan­ion, a hu­man PR rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the robot’s man­u­fac­turer, just what the ma­chine can and can’t do.

I wasn’t in­ter­ested in be­ing nice. Af­ter all, if these things are go­ing to take over, then they’re go­ing to need to get past peo­ple like me first.

“Can you speak English?” I asked in Man­darin Chi­nese. “No I can’t, but I can go and learn,” it replied in a child-like voice, try­ing ob­vi­ously to play the cute card to get out of its cur­rent pickle.

“But there are so many re­porters here from around the world who can’t speak Chi­nese,” I scolded the ma­chine. “What about them?”

The robot didn’t have an an­swer for me, so I of­fered to act as its trans­la­tor be­tween for­eign re­porters for a fee. It stared at me with cold, blue, dig­i­tal eyes.

“Ask it to help you find a cup of cof­fee,” the PR woman smiled, know­ing that show­ing me the way to the com­pany’s ro­botic cof­fee maker was well within the robot’s lim­its.

And so it took me right to my next tar­get, a robot that put on a show by mak­ing me a hot cup of freshly brewed cof­fee. It was fun to watch, but I’m not sure it was com­pletely nec­es­sary.

I de­cided to stay be­hind and watch over the next re­porter’s cute re­quest for a cof­fee. The ma­chine went through the mo­tions again, but this time it hit a snag. There was no milk left, so all that came out at the end was a shot of hot cof­fee in an oth­er­wise empty cup.

“There’s no more milk,” I told the sweat­ing PR woman. “Oh oh,” she fret­ted be­fore pulling a black cover over the show and send­ing her staff in to fill the ma­chine’s milk tanks.

“There’s no robot to come and add more milk?” I cheek­ily asked. The PR lady wasn’t happy.

It was my cue to leave.

Andy Bore­ham in­ter­acts with a cute lit­tle robot in the me­dia cen­ter. — Zhou Shengjie

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