Robots to take over as campus tour guides

By H. G. WELLS | April 1, 2018

A3_Robots
courtesy of the Office of UNdergraduate Admissions iHop prototypes are being developed in an array of colors to celebrate diversity.

APRIL FOOL’S: This article was published as part of The News-Letter’s annual April Fool’s edition, an attempt at adding some humor to a newspaper that is normally very serious about its reporting.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is partnering with the department of Mechanical Engineering to create robots to replace student tour guides.

Dean of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions Isabella Asimov announced the project in an email sent to the student body on Tuesday. 

“At Hopkins, our mission has always been to be pioneers, and this latest project is a shining example of our innovative spirit,” Asimov wrote. “It’s just one more reason why prospective students will want to put Hopkins at the top of their list.”

According to Asimov, the Mechanical Engineering department has been commissioned to create a fleet of 20 robots that will be able shepherd prospective students and their families across campus, recite the same script student guides use and tell humanizing jokes extolling constructed Hopkins traditions like the Hopkins Seal.

The department is expected to have prototypes ready by May. The robots will stand at 5-feet-5-inches and will be modeled after “Jay,” the Blue Jay Statue outside the Fresh Food Café. Professor Ralph Bradbury, the lead engineer on the project, discussed his designs ideas for the robots, which will be called iHops, not to be confused with the restaurant chain IHOP
(International House of
Pancakes). 

“President Daniels told us from the beginning that he wanted this project to reflect the University’s commitment to diversity,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “As such, in addition to a handful of ‘traditional-looking’ blue jays, we will also have jays in a variety of other colors. We want prospective students of all backgrounds to feel welcome when they come to visit.” 

Bradbury said the iHops will be able to answer questions during tours just like students. However, a graduate student working on the project explained that the iHops are being programmed to dodge them. Mechanical Engineering graduate student Ursula LeGuire explained how they designed that function.

“They can’t answer honestly. Like if someone asks about the worst aspect of life at Hopkins is, or whether students drink, the iHops are programmed to shout ‘Gooo Hop!’ on a loop for 10 seconds,” LeGuire said. 

While many in the administration are excited about this upcoming change, students have had mixed responses. Current tour guide Deandra Faust was relieved that they were going to be replaced.

“I can’t keep up fake liking this school anymore. I feel like I sold myself to the Devil doing this job,” she said. “I feel awful about all those prospective students I entrapped.”

Meanwhile, tour guide Eduardo Snowe was concerned that the new iHops would mislead prospective students more than student tour guides.

“I’d try to sneak in warnings while on my tour like ‘God help you if you live in McCoy sophomore year’ or ‘some professors care more about their own research than your well being,’” he said. “But now, they’ve created literal propaganda machines.”

Eugenia Debs, a senior sociology major, spoke about her concern over the rise of automated labor.

“These iHops threaten the value of student work. Student tour guides need to form a union fast,” Debs said.

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