Hello, Robot. explores how popular culture has shaped our perception of robots and artificial humans, the impact this technology has had on industry and the increasing blurring of the boundaries between human and machine.
To unpack some of these big, philosophical ideas, four writers have responded to one of the provocative questions posed by the show via the medium of flash fiction. The short stories vary in style, tone and approach, demonstrating a breadth of storytelling. The pieces also hint at wider worlds, a literary quality flash fiction is particularly known for.
Compellingly illustrated by Sean Mulvenna, each story presents a different take on our relationship with robots, from those designed to help us in our daily lives, to robot-induced post-apocalyptic wastelands. The four writers bring their own unique voice to their work, allowing us to showcase different perspectives on this fascinating subject.
Responding to the question Do you want a Robot to take care of you? Lindz McLeod's story, Mr Fuzz, is about a grandmother and her grandchild bonding over a shared interaction with a smart robot. Read it below 🤖
The robot was white and fluffy, with floppy ears and a question-mark tail. Sophie knelt to examine the metal tag on its red collar, which bore the name 'Mr Fuzz'. She spoke the name automatically; the dog came to life, blinking large, blue eyes.
'Connecting tae Wi-Fi.'
Sophie had been aware that buying an off-brand product would have influenced the quantity and quality of the functions; the advert for the original RoboPup 300 had a crisp English accent, the sort you heard on the nightly news. Mr Fuzz, by contrast, sounded suspiciously like Ford Kiernan from Chewin' The Fat, with a brogue so thick you could use it to scour a saucepan.
'Hoo's it gaun'? Updates initiated.'
'Mr Fuzz can help you around the house, Gran.' Sophie consulted the manual. 'He can liase with the in-house system to turn your appliances on— stuff like the toaster, the kettle, the heating.' She looked down. 'Isn't that right, Mr Fuzz?'
'Aye, doll.' It ended with a noise like someone saying, in a deep, growly voice, the word 'woof'.
Gran pointedly ignored them. The football was on telly; Gran was following a player’s progress up the pitch with exaggerated eagerness. The calendar on the wall had several large red X's marked on it next to smaller scribbled notes. 'Gran? Did you get to your doctor’s appointment on time this morning?'
'I never had an appointment.' Gran turned up the volume of the telly.
The calendar said otherwise, but Sophie decided not to argue. It had taken her weeks to squeeze that appointment out of the clinic. 'You need to start locking your door as well, okay?'
Someone received a yellow card onscreen. The crowd were going wild. Gran mumbled under her breath. Sophie sighed.
'I'll leave you two to get acquainted. I'll be back tomorrow morning.'
Sophie arrived the next day to find Gran cross-armed in her chair, glaring at Mr Fuzz, who had retreated into the furthest corner of the room. Despite the lack of expression in the robot’s face, Sophie had the distinct feeling it was pouting.
'That thing tried to eat my newspaper.' Gran pointed an accusatory finger at Mr Fuzz, who responded by folding up into a small, somehow even sulkier, cube.
'He has a hoover function, Gran. If you leave stuff on the floor, he'll try to tidy it up. Like a Roomba.'
'Well I don't know about any fancy dancing but my Metro's far too chewed to read.' Gran rose from her chair. 'I'll make some tea.'
'Let Mr Fuzz do it,' Sophie pleaded. 'That's what he's for. Look, let me show you.' She cleared her throat. 'Mr Fuzz, put the kettle on.'
Mr Fuzz uncurled from his sulking position; within seconds, the sound of rising steam could be heard from the kitchen.
'I've got him all linked up to the house system. You just need to tell him what you want. He's somewhere between a pet and a butler.'
'He's a nuisance is what he is,' Gran grumbled. 'I don't need any help.'
'Of course you don't,' Sophie soothed. 'He's a gadget. He can make your life easier, like a washing machine. And he can do so much more— watch this. Mr Fuzz, what’s the weather like today?'
Mr Fuzz blinked twice.
'Eight degrees, gey dreich wi' frequent showers. Woof.'
'Good dog,' Sophie instinctively bent to pet him. She felt a bit silly, but the feel of his soft fur under her fingers and the little heartbeat in his chest made him feel real.
Mr Fuzz remained an unwelcome tenant for several weeks, until one night a much more unwanted guest crept in. Sophie rewound the house cameras to the right place and watched.
The burglar had entered via the unlocked door just after midnight, and stood for several seconds in the hallway, unsure which room to investigate first. Mr Fuzz approached silently from behind. The burglar, hearing a deep Glaswegian accent coming from knee height in the darkness asking him to 'gonnae no dae that, woof', had promptly exited the house and turned himself in at the nearest police station to beg for protection. After this escapade, Gran had finally agreed to install an automatic lock system on all the doors.
'Although,' she looked fondly at Mr Fuzz, 'it's not like we need it when I've got my wee hero here.'
The end of the month arrived without further trouble. Gran's neighbours kept asking where Sophie had bought Mr Fuzz; his ability to correctly identify extremely old hymns from a portion sung by a quavering, elderly voice (who did not necessarily remember all the words, or indeed, the melody) had proved a hit among the local residents. Sophie unlocked the door.
She found Mr Fuzz waiting for her in the hallway. He was wearing a party hat, cocked at a jaunty angle. It had purple streamers trailing from the top. He led her into the living room, where she found a table laden with sausage rolls, scones, napkins and cardboard plates.
'What's all this?'
'Mr Fuzz reminded me it was your birthday today. He ordered cake and everything.' Gran poured some lemonade into a cup and handed it over. 'It's amazing what he can do.' She held out the knife to Sophie. 'Would you like the honour of cutting the cake, birthday girl?'
Sophie swallowed against the lump in her throat. She lifted the robot onto a chair. 'Mr Fuzz, start recording. Save the video to the memory folder. We'll access it later.'
'Say please.' Gran smiled at Mr Fuzz. 'He's not a hoover. He's a very important member of the family.'
'Aye hen, nae problem.'
Mr Fuzz began to belt out 'Happy Birthday Tae You' in an off-key voice. Gran joined in. Sophie smiled. It was indeed a very happy birthday.
Lindz McLeod is a writer and poet from Edinburgh. She has been published by the Scottish Book Trust, the Scotsman and online publications such as Allegory Ridge. She is currently working on her first novel, best described as Beauty and the Beast meets Downtown Abbey.
Sean Mulvenna is an illustrator from Glasgow who works with art festivals, magazines, videogame makers and poets. Most recently, he's made The Last Train for the BBC in collaboration with filmmaker Ross Hogg.