His name was HitchBOT, just a down on his luck robot from Canada that wanted to see the world but had no money to do so. So he relied on the kindness of strangers.
HitchBOT was basically a garbage can in rubber boots. He couldn’t do anything much – he was equipped with a speech program that allowed him to interact with humans, he had 3G and GPS and an external battery meter so you could help him power up again by plugging him into your cigarette lighter. His goal was to cross America as he had done in Canada and he even had a bucket list of places to go and things to do. He’d made it from one coast to the other in Canada, how hard could America be?
He was murdered in Philadelphia, two weeks into his trip.
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The robot’s creators received an image of their dismembered robot, but they couldn’t even track him as his battery had run out so the GPS no longer worked. Tragic, they said. Heartbreaking.
Reports came in all weekend. This is why America can’t have nice things, people said. It was presented as a contrast between American and Canadian sensibilities. How come this harmless robot could get all the way across Canada but couldn’t even get off the east coast in America? There was an unspoken head shake in nearly every story that reported on this – America had failed.
Well screw that. America won this fight. Screw that lazy Canadian robot and his inventors right in their shady robo portholes.
If you’re under the age of 50, here are some facts you grew up with. The first is that hitchhiking is one of the worst things you could ever hope to do. Do you know who hitchhikes? Serial killers. If you’re really lucky, it’ll just be a sex offender. Nothing good ever comes from hitchhiking and we’ve all been told this for years. For years! There’s a movie called the Hitcher that’s just about Rutger Hauer murdering people on the highway for no reason whatsoever. We all have it ingrained in us to automatically mistrust a hitchhiker.
The second thing we all grew up knowing is this – robots are evil. This sounds silly, but is it? How much of our media is based around the idea that robots are going to rise up and destroy us? It’s one of the most popular tropes in sci fi and has been for ages. And in real life, when people do make advances in robotics, the first thing anything reporting on it does is make a Skynet joke, it happens all the time. And even worse, just last week a group of our super geniuses like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk got together to issue a warning about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence, just in case we’d all not been taking movies like Terminator, I, Robot, The Matrix and others seriously.
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So we live in a society that, maybe even if it’s just unconsciously, is absolutely convinced that both robots and hitchhikers are going to murder us. What the hell did anyone thing was going to happen to a robot hitchhiker?
If anything we should be ashamed that it took two weeks to kill this thing. Think of the damage it could have caused in that time had it had any ability to actually do anything. This was a test run, and it wasn’t a test of whether robots could trust humans like the creators said, it was a test of whether humans could trust each other. And Canada failed. If this robot had any sinister capabilities, there’d be a trail of blood-soaked poutine from Halifax to Nanaimo right now. And it’d be all your fault, Canada. No one ot blame but each other for helping the little kill bot travel from victim to victim.
This isn’t a story about America the cruel or America the letdown, this is a story about America doing what you asked it to do for the last 30 or more years – you don’t let a robot or a hitchhiker run amok in your town because you know how that’s going to turn out. The person who did this is a hero.