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I’m With Stupid – August 22, 2014

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallIn case you were wondering, HitchBOT made it safely to the Pacific Coast last week. I know a lot of you have been following the HitchBOT story, so you’ll be glad to know it was a success.

For those of you who don’t know what HitchBOT is, I’ll explain. HitchBOT is a robot that just hitchhiked its way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia, a distance of about 3,700 miles.

Super nerds might say HitchBOT looks a little like R5-D4 with pool-noodle appendages; to the rest of us, it looks more like a 5-gallon bucket with a clear tupperware head and arms and legs made from blue pool noodles. It has a cube of LED display panels — a face of sorts — inside the tupperware, and on its arms it’s wearing yellow gloves, one of which, naturally, is curled into a fist with the thumb sticking out.

HitchBOT uses solar panels to power its computer brain, and it’s equipped with GPS technology that allows it to send information and pictures back to its creators, a group of researchers from Toronto. Based on the information transmitted from HitchBOT, the researchers hoped to learn more about artificial intelligence and human-robot interaction.

The journey started for HitchBOT on July 27 when it was left by the side of a road near the Halifax airport. It picked up its first ride less than two minutes later and made it all the way across Canada in about three weeks. It might have gotten there even faster, but along the way HitchBOT took time out to attend a powwow in northern Ontario, a wedding in British Columbia and, presumably, a hockey game or two.

Given how quickly HitchBOT made the journey, Frauke Zeller, one of the robot’s creators, declared that “robots can trust human beings.” But I would caution Zeller against jumping to any conclusions. I think the HitchBOT experiment may have shown that robots can trust humans in Canada, but everyone already knew that; it’s Canada.

Can robots trust humans in other countries, though? I say no. Think about it: If HitchBOT tried to cross Ukraine it would get shot down, and if it tried to cross Mexico, it might make it to the U.S. border, but it would get there stuffed with drugs and a couple of kids from Guatemala.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the annals of literature or film that predicts a future in which robots can trust humans. Ever seen “Blade Runner”? Harrison Ford’s job in the movie is to hunt down and kill a group of robots; “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”? Everyone wants to destroy the “Sixth Sense” kid because he’s a robot and the movie is boring as hell. Even poor “Wall-E” got left behind on Earth to clean up our filth. We treat robots like crap.

And don’t get me started on whether humans can trust robots. We emphatically cannot. I’m amazed anyone would even allow HitchBOT into their car, given all we know about what robots will do to humans in the future.

Other than C-3PO and R2-D2, has there ever been a robot that didn’t go nuts and try to kill people? HAL killed people. The Terminator killed people. I, Robot killed people, as far as I know. Hell, the robots in “The Matrix” tried to kill everyone they couldn’t use as batteries. Robots will always try to kill people. I’m pretty sure that’s the first law of movie-cliche thermorobotics.

I know a lot of you may scoff and think that I’ve proved nothing since all of the aforementioned movies are fictional, but there’s real-life precedent for my claims. In fact, I personally know 17 people who’ve been attacked by their Roombas, five of them fatally.

So you can give all the rides you want to every hitchhiking robot you see, but I won’t. I know better than that. I know it’s only a matter of time before HitchBOT itself malfunctions and goes berserk.

Of course, given that HitchBOT is Canadian, its version of going berserk will probably involve calling everyone “hosers” rather than trying to kill them, but you get the idea. It’s not safe. And, God forbid, if HitchBOT ever manages to self-replicate and somehow ends up with a cousin from Chicago, we’re all screwed. That thing will spend eternity hitching and murdering its way around the country.

I think it’s great that HitchBOT was a success, but now that its journey is complete, melt it down immediately before it kills us all.

Todd Hartley really did want to kill Twiki from “Buck Rogers.” He hated that robot. 


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