• Greg Baker


It’s been a bad couple of months for robots.

A few weeks ago we talked to hitchBot about his ill-fated adventures to the United States.  If you missed the interview, hitchBot is a pioneer of hitchhiking robots.  His story rose to prominence after successful hitchhikes across Canada and Europe.  Unfortunately, while attempting to hitchhike across the United States, hitchBot was mugged in Philadelphia and thrown to the side of the road, left for dead.  Fortunately, a couple of warm-hearted fans found hitchBot and provided the appropriate emergency medical treatment.  Last reported, hitchBot is still recovering at his home in Ontario, Canada.

Now it seems that an individual in a drunken rage has lashed out at another innocent robot.  The robot, Pepper, is designed to read people’s emotions and interact in an expressive manner.  These behaviors are intended to put carbon-based life forms at ease and make Pepper a better companion.  Unfortunately, Pepper’s programming wasn’t sufficient to handle a 60-year-old drunk man.  After becoming irritated with a clerk at the store where Pepper worked, the man turned to Pepper and released his frustration through violence.  Fortunately, the man is in custody, but Pepper was seriously injured in the attack.

Could this be simply a case of Pepper being at the wrong place at the wrong time?  Possibly.  Could hitchBot and Pepper be faulted for not obeying the First Rule of Life – “Stay out of the way of crazies?”  A distinct possibility.  The detection of crazies using positronic technology is somewhat in its infancy.  However, another possibility exists.  The human race may have a systematic and deep seeded animosity toward robots.

Consider the following: What is one of the most popular storylines in science fiction?  It’s the artificial life form rising up and destroying the creator.  This plot forms the basis of some of the most popular science fiction stories ever told.  The Terminator, The Matrix, and BattleStar Galactica are just a few examples.  Also recently, some of the brightest minds in science and engineering – Elon Musk, Stephen Hawkins, Peter Norvig and Steve Wozniak – issued warnings against the use of artificial intelligence. 

While humans enjoy the benefits of silicon-based automation, it’s pretty obvious that we fear losing control.

Whether these fears originate from deep-seeded animosity or whether it’s the result of propaganda designed to maintain the current balance of power, the anti-robot indoctrination begins at an early age. 

Researchers followed the movements of a retail assistance robot named Robovie-II.  This robot traversed a shopping mall and occasionally crossed paths with a person.  Robovie-II would ask the person to step aside, and if the person didn’t move, Robovie-II would proceed in another direction.  Disturbingly, the researchers observed that children seemed to enjoy harassing Robovie-II.  The children would tease the robot, allowing it to pass and then jumping back in its way.  Groups of children would form a circle around the robot, blocking its path in all directions.  The children were verbally abusive and, in some cases, violent.  The children described their actions as being “stressful or painful” to the robot.  It was one of the most extreme cases of robot bullying ever observed in the wild.

We live in a great time in history.  Many years from now, historians will look upon us as the first generation to coexist with robots.  How do we want to be judged?  Do we want to cling to the old ways and maintain carbon-based superiority?  Or will we embrace the future?  Will we learn to live and share with this new intelligence we’ve created?  hitchBot, Pepper, Robovie-II, and all the other robots are trying to tell us something.  If you listen closely, you can hear it.

Robots are people too.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker

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