Lost Roomba

    Lost Roomba

    It’s fun to play on contemporary anxieties regarding artificial intelligence. Where better to start than with the concept of a lost Roomba? It must happen, right?

    This experiment was conceived with Kary Hess after half a bottle of wine as a means of professing my love for my Roomba.

    We used the Burner app for iPhone to create “Gil’s Roomba Hotline.” We poured through the available numbers, using PhoneSpell.org, which indicates what a particular phoner might spell. By permitting an “extra” digit, or a “Y” in our case, “707-AI-Purity” leaped out as something with which we could work. Besides the well known “Artificial Intelligence” abbreviation, the word “purity” had a particular resonance since we had recently seen a documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (Jack D. Ripper’s “purity of essence” monologue being a highlight – “our precious bodily fluids!” – two Kubrick movie references in one).

    The next step was integrating the AI Purity concept into the text of the flier. This was achieved using the old acrostic poetry form – the first letter of every sentence spells “AI Purity,” which is echoed by the tear-off numbers below. “Acrostic” would be the first clue offered to those who called the number, which was relayed via computer voice “Alex” via the Free Online Tone Generator site.

    Lost Roomba — The Flier

    Kary decided the flier would have more verisimilitude if written by hand with a Sharpie pen, which she did. Then it was a trip to FedEx Office for copies.

    Then a post to Instagram and Facebook. The Next Door online community for the neighborhood really embraced it. Calls flooded in—listen here:


    The flier even inspired someone to write the Ballad of the Lost Roomba and earned a mention in A Bestiary of the Anthropocene by Nicolas Nova and published in 2021 by Onomatopee Projects (an editorially-led public gallery and print shop in Eindhoven, Netherlands — that Roomba sure got around).

    There’s my Roomba (bottom left).

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