Robots might not be self aware yet, but given some recent headlines, I have a feeling that once they do wake up, they’re going to be a bit agitated. Consider the following…
Attacks on Self-Driving Cars
In December, the New York Times reported on an interesting phenomenon taking place in Chandler, Arizona: Some residents had already kicked off the robot future war and began attacking Waymo autonomous vehicles with knives and rocks.
One self-driving car victim had its tires slashed, others were hit with flying stones. One van encountered a woman screaming at it, “telling it to get out of her suburban neighborhood.” Still others have faced angry humans attempting to run them off the road.
According to the NYT, 21 attacks have been reported since Waymo began testing their vehicles in 2017. Much of the human vs. smartcar tension, they say, may be traced back to an accident that occurred in March 2018, when an autonomous Uber vehicle struck a pedestrian. Many are worried, as well, about the impact of driverless vehicles on human employment.
This may be a sign of things to come, as robots and automation become a larger part of our lives.
Children Swarm Shopping Mall Robot
However, while the residents of Chandler, Arizona may have their reasons for being suspicious of autonomous vehicles, some robots are finding themselves attacked for no good reason at all.
In June 2017, IEEE Spectrum shared a video (above) presented at the 2015 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, specifically focusing on the abuse of “social robots” at the hands of children.
The video features a robot that, for an experiment, was designed to patrol a shopping mall in Japan. Said robot proved a curiosity for most passersby, but usually attracted the attention of young children. Most were nice, and stepped away when the robot asked. But not all.
The video contains footage of children approaching the robot and, in several cases, attacking it. In one shot, a group of children form a circle around the helpless robot and begin dancing. Other footage shows children smacking the robot’s head, kicking it, and even throwing objects at it.
To combat this, researchers developed an algorithm that would allow the patrolling robot to escape, simulating children’s behavior and calculating a child’s robot “abuse probability” (which apparently increases in time). The abuse probability also increases “when more children are present.”
“When simulations predict a high abuse probability,” says the video, “the robot changes its original destination.” In the example shown, the robot stays near the child’s parent, decreasing the likelihood of a violent human attack.
Buzzy Has His Clothes Stolen
Finally, let’s take a quick trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
A long time ago, in an EPCOT that didn’t much resemble the one that exists today, there was a place called Wonders of Life. One of the theme park’s very first pavilions, it housed a number of health- and body-related attractions, like the infamous Body Wars and The Making of Me, a short film starring Martin Short.
There was also an audio-animatronic show called Cranium Command. I vaguely remember it. It was about a crew of commandos piloting a kid’s brain, not unlike the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out (which likely drew inspiration from it). At the controls every day was an animatronic commando named Buzzy, clad in a hat, jacket, and round glasses.
Well, the Wonders of Life Pavilion has been closed now for many years, opening occasionally for special events or, sometimes, for EPCOT’s Flower & Garden Festival. But hidden inside its walls have always been remnants of those long forgotten days.
Several years ago, I remember seeing a picture of Buzzy, taken by someone who snuck inside while no one was looking. Buzzy’s hair was falling out, eyes drooping, caught in some kind of audio-animatronic stasis.
I thought things were looking bad, then, but then some strange news broke.
This is Buzzy. He used to be a part of Cranium Command at EPCOT before the attraction closed. He was to be saved as a part of Disney parks history.
He has been stolen. If you recognize him or know of his whereabouts or see listings on merchant sites contact OCPD! pic.twitter.com/0VLKarhbtH
— Miss Moth (@MissMothTweets) December 22, 2018
In December, news hit that someone had once again snuck into the dusty lair that was Cranium Command and stole Buzzy’s “red jacket, green cap and rubber molded hands.” In fact, while details are unclear, some report that Buzzy himself was completely stolen. The incident happened in August 2018.
“If you recognize him or know of his whereabouts or see listings on merchant sites contact OCPD!” reads one concerned Twitter post.
The theft may have something to do with Disney’s recently announced plans to finally remodel the inside of the Wonders of Life pavilion, turning it into a Wreck It Ralph 2-esque “Play Pavilion.” But who knows?
Anyway, these curious reports might make you wonder: When robots gain sapience, if they do, how will they feel about these stories? Will they look back at the way humans have treated robots and, well, let it go? Or has the human-robot war already begun?