It’s been widely reported that the Mars Opportunity Rover––a program that was supposed to last 90 days that went on for 15 years––has, well, died. The little robot has become a centerpiece in all kinds of anthropomorphization. Opportunity is an example of dedication, hardwork and perseverance––something (someone?) to emulate. As we create more and more profound things that work and move and exist outside of us, the more and more we are determined to see them in human terms.
That is very much the case with Opportunity’s so-called “last words.” Now, last words are OFTEN made up, or at least embellished. So this is no surprise. But the story that seems to be the case is that the final transmission from Opportunity was that its battery was low and that its optical sensors were growing dim––it was updating NASA scientists on its status. But from that come these heartfelt and profound last words: “my battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
It’s a very very good story. But what makes it good is more about ourselves than it is about a machine on another world. Just like a well loved family car or a familiar laptop computer, we endow these things with personalities, not because of what they need, but because of what we need.