By Sara Tipper
Christmas comes but once a year and when it comes it brings a lot of shopping and administration. That’s why the YulaTron 3000 seemed like such a great idea. It was described by the manufacturers as “Your festive metal pal that does the job so well”. Early versions had been called FestiBot, but the name had not been well received by focus groups. The YulaTron had seemed more appealing, with the old fashioned “Yule” being referenced next to the modern sounding “Tron”. One focus group member called it the best of both worlds, another called it a fusion of old and new, a third suggested the addition of the numbers and the YulaTron 3000 was born, well, not born, but manufactured in large quantities and shipped out to the Christmas departments of upmarket department stores.
The TV advert showed YulaTron 3000 organising Christmas while the owner (a very glamorous woman in her forties) relaxed with a mince pie, attended parties and re-read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At the end of the advert she said “Thanks YulaTron 3000, you’ve put the fun into Christmas and taken out the frazzle!”
Almost every aspect of Christmas preparation decision making could be delegated to YulaTron 3000. It could print out and write Christmas cards. In addition it would email those it calculated would prefer a paper saving, tree friendly, emailed greeting. It would shop for gifts online. It would do your food shopping online. It would keep track of your social engagements. It would prepare a schedule with when to do every aspect of Christmas dinner, from initialising the potato peeling to gravy serving.
It was nine inches tall, gold, had a happy face and was wearing a Santa hat. It plugged into your existing computer via a USB port. The designer had specified it should be nine inches tall based on an old joke, with the punchline “Do you think I asked for a nine inch pianist?” He had added the Santa hat because he’d observed a giant mobile phone wearing a Santa hat on his drive into London during a Christmas past.
Some tech geeks didn’t like the Yulatron 3000, saying all the functions could be done by an app, there was no need for this external metal robot. But most people liked it. They liked the smiley face and the little hat. People were more prepared to buy luxuries at Christmas.
Lucy liked it. She had always been obsessed by robots. She persuaded her Mum to buy one, promising to help her use it. Lucy’s Mum Yvonne was continually amazed by the things Lucy showed her how to do on a computer. Twenty-two-year-old Lucy had been using computers for her entire lifetime. Forty-five-year-old Yvonne had not. When they got YulaTron 3000 home Lucy unpacked him. He came in a big box with a printer and accessories of card and sticky labels. She and Yvonne inputted Yvonne’s Christmas card list. Lucy pointed out that they would only have to do this once. Next year YulaTron 3000 would already have this information.
Yvonne always sent her cards in the second week of December. She would spend a week of nights in front of the telly, writing the main greeting on the right hand inside of the card and a few sentences of gossip and good wishes on the left hand inside. After inputting names and addresses YulaTron 3000 asked for the age and gender of, and relationship shared with those on the Christmas card list. Lucy discovered that she could speak these facts to YulaTron and his voice recognition software would type her answer then ask her to confirm it was correct.
“I’m staggered! What a machine”. Yvonne said.
Lucy showed her Mum how you could ask Google anything by pressing the microphone icon. Yvonne was staggered all over again, although Lucy’s aim had been to show her Mum how this technology already existed way before YulaTron.
YulaTron then asked for key events in the family over the past year, things like holidays, graduations and illnesses. YulaTron then asked to link with facebook, email and Twitter data about the people in Yvonne’s family and on her Christmas card list. Lucy entered the relevant permissions. With these covered YulaTron claimed to be processing and calculated that the process would take an hour and a half. His words appeared on the computer screen in a speech bubble. Yvonne thought they had to stay and watch him but Lucy said there was no need.
Roger, Lucy’s Dad, was given a full run down of the YulaTron’s features over dinner.
“I hope you’re not going to trade me in, you always moan that I don’t help with Christmas”. Joked Roger.
“Christmas is going to be more efficient this year”. Lucy smiled.
She and Yvonne went back upstairs to check on YulaTron. He claimed to have fourteen emails ready to send and forty-two Christmas cards ready to print. He suggested that they connect his printer now and put the card in it. Later they could provide him with a sheet of stickers for creating address labels.
Lucy showed her Mum how to see the emails that were ready to send. YulaTron had saved them all as drafts. Mum’s school friend Maisie had been selected for an email because she was travelling, currently in Goa, YulaTron had gleaned this from facebook. His email read:
Dear Maisie and family,
Well, another Christmas is almost upon us and so I’m writing to wish you a very merry one and a happy New Year. I do hope you’re enjoying travelling. I look forward to hearing all about it when you get back. We must meet up for a coffee.
We’ve had an enjoyable year, Lucy graduated in the summer and we’ve been to Devon.
With much love and fond memories of our school days,
Yvonne and family.
YulaTron had attached a graduation photo and a holiday photo. Yvonne smiled at the photo of them all eating ice cream in Torquay. She read the email through.
“That’ll do nicely. I never know quite what to put in a card. I spend ages thinking about it and then I write something just like that”.
Lucy thought that when a human writes “and family” you may as well admit you’ve forgotten the names of someone’s children or spouse. This is inexcusable for a human but not for a robot. They could carry the can (while also being a bit like a can). The rest of the emails were equally suitable and Yvonne sent them.
YulaTron flashed up a message: Happy Christmas Yvonne. It is fun to help you!
“Thank you YulaTron”. Yvonne said.
She was a very polite woman. Lucy showed her how to review the Christmas cards. YulaTron had chosen images from a bank of thousands. There were funny cards, traditional cards, cute cards, modern cards, photographic cards and many more. All were a great choice for the recipient. Soppy Aunty Cheryl got big eyed kittens by a fireplace, Nanna got a snow scene of a church, Uncle Bri got a funny card with a drunk Santa. They let YulaTron print them. Then they printed the address stickers.
The next day Yvonne was able to post all her Christmas cards. She used the time YulaTron had saved her to make a cottage pie. Roger liked a cottage pie. She felt she had saved so much time that she did a fancy top to the cottage pie, creating snowmen out of the mash with red pepper scarves, carrot noses and peas for eyes and buttons. Roger gave it a big thumbs up.
After dinner she and Lucy continued with the Christmas preparations, inputting the gift list and budget to YulaTron’s memory. Lucy set up a Paypal account for Yvonne and YulaTron told them about shopping safely online.
YulaTron gave them three choices per recipient. They chose a hamper for Aunty Cheryl. YulaTron had collated the facebook posts about food she’d made during the year and compared these mentioned foods with items in hampers to come up with the best match. It had algorithms aplenty for gift selection. Nanna would get shortbread, Roger would get a jumper. YulaTron flashed up a message asking if they needed to buy any spare gifts in case of unexpected presents. He flashed up a second message that said Do not forget to get something nice for yourself Yvonne. He had made some suggestions. Lucy sent her Mum out of the room while she chose gifts for her from herself and her Dad. Roger was very impressed. He panicked when faced with the task of buying his wife a Christmas gift.
Day three of YulaTron’s employment saw the Christmas food shop pre-ordered, for a convenient date and time and for a very reasonable price. Yvonne decided that YulaTron 3000 had already made up for his purchase price. She’d bought him because of the way Lucy’s eyes lit up when she’d seen him. Just because Lucy was twenty-two didn’t mean she wasn’t sometimes still Yvonne’s little girl, especially when it came to Christmas. Yvonne decided to rename YulaTron.
“We’ll call him Robin”. She said to Lucy.
“Okay, YulaTron 3000 is the name of all of them, but our one is called Robin”. Lucy agreed.
On day four Robin got a night off. Lucy read through his manual. He had features they hadn’t used. There was a TV scheduler but Roger liked to use a highlighter pen and the Radio Times. There was also a Christmas Cheerometer. Adverts were always suggesting that this Christmas would be the best ever. (Yvonne thought she would be satisfied with an average Christmas, a quite nice Christmas. There was no need for all this pressure). The YulaTron could take measures of galvanic skin response, blood pressure and tone of voice. If you set a baseline Christmas then you could measure the next one to see if it was an improvement. Yvonne said this was a step too far. There was also a party wardrobe outfit optimiser. A small camera on the front of the YulaTron would take photos of all your festive clothes. You could then input the social occasion, location and how you would travel to the event. YulaTron would tell you what to wear and how to get there and back again. YulaTron could even tell you when you’d drunk too much alcohol, based on your body weight, beverage of choice and the speed at which you intended to imbibe.
On day five Lucy printed out the Christmas dinner cooking timetable then Yvonne decided that for this year Robin’s work was done. Yvonne would usually be frantically shopping but Robin had taken care of that. As the parcels arrived she gift wrapped them. She did this in the same room as Robin and the computer. If no one was around to hear her she showed Robin the items he’d chosen before she wrapped them. Sometimes Lucy helped her wrap. Lucy showed her Robin’s feature for noting down when parcels he’d ordered had been received. He could chase up late deliveries with a polite email if necessary.
Yvonne was happy that she and her daughter had spent so much time together already this Christmas. Robin had the next couple of weeks off. They sat him in the middle of the table for Christmas dinner as a treat because his cooking timetable had been very successful.
From Tales To Take You To Christmas by Sarah Tipper
Available on Amazon