Jack Sirianni | Tuesday, February 21, 2023
The past couple of weeks have been accompanied by a wave of hysteria, cuteness or capitalism, depending on who you ask. As this modern fleet races across campus at its maximum speed of four miles per hour, students and faculty alike have been even faster to form strong opinions on our new automated friends. The dominant opinions and views of these new gadgets are told through the following perspectives.
To the type-A, straight-laced Notre Dame student, who enjoys obeying the rules and always walks on the right side of the sidewalks to class, these robots are a welcome addition to campus. In the day-to-day of their do-gooder life, they always go out of their way to fix a robot that may have fallen or avoid one who is busy on an errand. Just like the hit Disney film “Wall-E,” they find the new robots charming and sweet as they follow their command loyalty to a fault.
If this sounds like you, in your eyes, the Starship robots are the cutest thing to ever grace the paths of this campus and each sighting of one doing anything is like watching an 80-lb plastic puppy with wheels. With each errand they complete, the robots have a silly little trot because of their uneven wheels making them look like a toddler learning to walk. To you, this cuteness extends to the robots’ resting position where groups of them will just sit together huddled for warmth. You may have even gone as far as naming them fun pet names like Sparky — or Flash for a robot who gets your food to you quickly.
This is the type of person whose moral compass is just a little bit skewed and who is not afraid to interfere slightly with the diligent robots. This type of individual can often be found cutting in the dining hall salad line or eating at the LaFun Taco Bell before 11 p.m. on a weekend. While not evil, these actions are certainly chaotic.
If this sounds like something you would do, you are probably also the type of person who enjoys stepping in front of the robots in order to watch them divert their course. You enjoy the harmless fun of watching them panic for a split second and then suddenly brake to avoid you. While you enjoy the robots, you feel like it is your personal duty and pleasure to prank, tease or disorient them.
This group is a truly rare breed among Notre Dame students, the individual who is truly neutral in Robotgate 2023. This person uses the Starship robots, but neither pets them nor tries to push them over when using them. In your eyes, these new pearly white automatons are just another figure moving on the sidewalk next to you.
To you, the whole debate over these may even seem pointless and amusing. If this sounds like you, congratulations on avoiding the polarized and partisan nature of our times by rising above it all.
This type of Notre Dame student is the traditionalist who despises the robots for bringing their futuristic lights and cameras to the naturally pristine campus of the University. This individual can often be found walking around the lake tearing up to the “Rudy” soundtrack and at the Grotto right before their accounting exam.
If this sounds like you, the primary concern you have is that the historic campus of Notre Dame is being polluted with the blinking lights and the confused driving of these clunky robots. While you would never go out of your way to harm or confuse a Grubhub robot, you’re angry that someone who lives in Stanford Hall would order Flip Kitchen with a robot to avoid the walk.
If you are a traditionalist like this, you may have already let your voice be heard by signing the Manifesto Contra Robota petition on Change.org to oppose the robots. This petition with 371 signees as of Feb. 19 states that “the robots represent an inappropriate commercialization and privatization of the Notre Dame campus.” The supporters of this petition claim that the robots will play into the consumerism of Notre Dame students and that they could even force “the first step in a slippery slope to AI’s domination over mankind.”
This type of Notre Dame student is the sworn enemy of the Starship robots as they will stop at nothing to see that these loyal helpers do not make it to their destination. Notre Dame students like this will on occasion let their intrusive thoughts get the best of them. This anarchist is often tempted to tip the robots over and even commit a crime as diabolical as stealing the food inside.
If this sounds like you, your opposition to these robots has gone too far. You may be tempted or coerced to help a friend corner one of the robots and laugh as it struggles to escape.
While the opinions of our new friends on campus can vary drastically from person to person, I find myself torn among them. I love the cute little trot of the robots as they crisscross campus and I believe they need googly eyes and names. However, I am frustrated every time their bright lights interrupt my peaceful night walk or they jut out in front of my bike while I am hustling to class late. If this is the way that the future of technology will unfold at Notre Dame and the world at large, so be it, but for the time being, I find it hysterical that some students are relating these robots to AI world domination. I absolutely could live without the robots and I question if this is where the University could best be spending its time and resources. However, I believe they could be a fun service that quickly becomes a part of the culture on campus. Whether you find yourself getting food delivered from a robot every day or cannot stand the sight of the six-wheeled monstrosities, our new friends seem to be staying at Notre Dame.
Jack Sirianni is a sophomore studying political science, journalism and public policy. He is a proud Michigander who appreciates jamming to Pete Seeger, scouring eBay for vintage Notre Dame paraphernalia and collecting stickers from everywhere he goes. On campus, Jack can often be seen by the Founder’s Monument or in the line for Southwest Salad. For your favorite tidbits of knowledge or any other musings, his inbox is always open at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.