Starting in 1940 with the pulp Captain Future, science fiction robots have served as mother surrogates to humans, either for good or ill. Or maybe a bit of both, given Philip K. Dick’s 1955 short story Nanny. Becky Chamber’s excellent A Closed and Common Orbit touchingly incorporates bad robot mothers and good robot mothers into a single plot line as well as the role of memory in robots. Of course, it is more fun when the robot mother is bad or an unreliable narrator, especially in the passably entertaining I Am Mother with Hillary Swank and Rose Byrne. At least Mother came with heating pads to make the physical human-robot interaction more realistic, topping Ilse in Vernor Vinge’s classic short story Long Shot.
We may soon have an opportunity to determine if robot mothering is a good thing or a bad thing as the Japanese are pushing ahead on robots for child care even though studies indicated that small children raised with robots and technology lose empathy, see this disturbing report.
But people can serve as mothers to robots, too; remember Dr. Susan Calvin adopting a brain-wiped robot in the Asimov short story Lenny? Or Dr. Nora Wakeman in the cartoon series My Life as a Teenage Robot? And, of course, D.A.R.Y.L.’s adopted mom loved him (we love you too, DARYL!).
And robots can be mothers to their own family of robots, as entertainingly presented in Spielberg’s *Batteries Not Included. After all, who doesn’t love multi-robot teams of unmanned aerial system robots? Robot families, or at least offspring that improve certain traits over time, are being simulated by scientists in the real world. Speaking of raising robots, the idea that robots or AIs would grow up in protected, high controlled nurseries is showing up in scifi quite a bit, see The Robots of Gotham and Embers of War.
In the meantime, I recommend watching *Batteries Not Included with Mom and the family or read A Closed and Common Orbit and savor the certainty of family in these tough times.