When I was a little girl, my father told me I could do anything I wanted when I grew up.
“I want to fly,” I said.
“Sure, you can learn to fly an airplane,” he said.
“No, I want to fly without an airplane. Just with my arms,” I said.
I can’t remember his reply, but it’s clear I kind of missed the point. He was trying to share an important message about self-confidence and ambition, and I just wanted to be able to fly so I didn’t have to get my parents to drive me to the playground.
I had a similar experience with my daughter the other day. We were reading a book called “The Wonderful Things You Will Be,” one of those sentimental kid’s books that talks about all of the great things that your child will become as they grow up – kind, clever, bold, caring, etc. The end of the story has these lines:
Then you will discover all there is to see
And become anybody that you’d like to be
It then opens up to a double-page spread of vaguely creepy drawings of kids half-dressed in costumes – a boy with a crocodile head, a girl with a zebra head, a tree trunk with knee socks and Mary Janes, that kind of thing. I’m not sure what the author was thinking, to be honest. Anyway, when my daughter saw that page, she pointed to her favourite picture.
“Wanna be robot?” she said.
I could have explained that’s not really what the book is getting at, despite the strange pictures. The author means that you can choose what kind of person you become and what career you have when you grow up – doctor, professor, artist, Instagram lifestyle influencer (please God, no) or whatever.
I also could have told her that according to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, there’s a good chance that we’ll all become robots eventually. He thinks that humans will need to merge with machines if we’re going to stay relevant in the age of AI. Computers can communicate at a trillion bits per second, but humans can only manage 10 bits per second. If we’re going to have any hope of keeping up, we’ll have to merge our biological intelligence with digital intelligence, turning us all into cyborgs.
Here’s what I actually said:
Because robots are cool. Of course she wants to be one. I’ll let her worry about all the practical career stuff and cyborg takeover when she’s older. Now is the time to dream big and weird, my robot child.