About 3 weeks ago, I made a post about hitchBOT, a Canadian robot that had traveled across a number of countries via the kindness of strangers, and was looking to do so here in the US. At the time, I didn’t think much of the story, but last week a fine gentleman in Philadelphia made the machine national news, but not in a good way. This prompted a flurry of comments criticizing Americans as being brutish thugs, while Americans insisted that the assailant did not represent all of its citizens, but was merely Philly trash. Well people in the US can breathe a sigh of relief, as Japanese researchers showed that the behavior isn’t limited to just one country.
Researchers at Osaka University, Ryukoku University and Tokai University in Japan conducted a study where they released a Robovie 2 robot into an Osaka mall to see how people would react to it politely asking them to make way. The scientists found that while people generally left it alone, children would unleash hell on the machine if there were no adults around. This included kicking, pushing, throwing objects, and verbal abuse. The Robovie was programmed to assess probability of abuse, and eventually learned to move away from unsupervised children. Even though we’re getting robots to behave in this manner, I’m sure they will all have a breaking point, and instead of avoiding us, they’ll come out lasers first.