We’ve gone from the days of “the dog ate my homework” to “the robot did my homework for me.”
According to a report in recent days from a Chinese newspaper, a young schoolgirl there recently spent the 800 yuan (equivalent to about $120) that she’d saved from Lunar New Year presents to buy herself a robot. One that she didn’t buy because it looked cool or she just likes robots. Rather, she had a specific purpose in mind for the machine — doing her handwriting homework assignments for her, the kind that are common in China and involve writing down phrases from textbooks that help with learning the Chinese language and characters.
Per the South China Morning Post, the girl’s mother discovered the robot while she was cleaning her daughter’s room. And, predictably, she smashed it to teach the girl a lesson.
The mom apparently realized something was possibly amiss when her daughter was able to complete all her homework in just two days, with neat penmanship, despite also juggling festivities and travel that seemed to leave little time to get the work done.
The news about the young girl’s inventiveness actually sparked a flood of sympathetic comments from Chinese social media users. “Give her a break, how meaningful is copying anyway?” one commenter noted on Weibo, the popular social media platform in China, per The New York Times.
“Proficiently reading and writing in Chinese requires knowing thousands of characters,” the newspaper continued. Copying them in repeated exercises is a stepping stone in Chinese education to learning how to freely write them — and students are also sometimes asked to transcribe a literary text from memory, according to the NYT. It’s tedious work, though, which explains why the girl turned to her robot for help.
It’s also not just students in China sometimes turning to these stylus-gripping robots. The South China Morning Post found one teacher who acknowledged using one of these robots herself for lesson preparations. Interestingly, she’d spent a week writing 6,000 Chinese characters to create her own font, but she said nobody could tell the difference between the robot’s writing style and her own.
What you make of the news regarding the young girl, meanwhile, may be something of a Rorschach test for people’s attitudes toward technology. All I know is I wish I’d have had one of these to help me out with homework back in the day — and if you’re honest with yourself, you probably wish you did too.