Friday, 7 August 2015

Roboticide US Style

Headline: "Robbie The Robot Murdered .... Dr. Morbius held for questioning!" Well that would be the headline in a funnier world.

In fact it was 'hitchBOT', a rather static robot created as a 'social experiment' by Canadian researchers, who has apparently met his end, at the hands of persons or person unknown. The idea was to place hitchBOT at a defined starting point, with a sign taped to it, which indicated where it wanted to be transported to, and wait to see what happened.

The hitchBOT had a GPS locator on board, a camera that randomly snapped and uploaded photos about every 20 minutes, to document its travels, and it was also equipped with a somewhat limited capability to communicate with its fellow travellers, however this didn't stop it being looked after. Firstly in Canada, and then in Europe, where on these travels, it had attended a comic convention, and a wedding. It had its portrait painted in the Netherlands, and most bizarrely it spent an entire week with a heavy metal band .... all safely.

hitchBOT Was A Social Experiment.

But when it tried its first (and as it turned out, only) US journey, a darker tale emerges, because when it got to the City of Brotherly Love (Motto: latin "Philadelphia maneto" - "Let brotherly love endure"), aka Philadelphia, someone deliberately attacked and disabled the robot beyond repair, early on Saturday the 1st of August 2015, thus ending its only American tour after about two weeks.

What's rather depressing about this is that it had successfully hitch-hiked across Canada in 26 days last year, and also navigated parts of Europe, and in all cases, like 'Blanche DuBois', hitchBOT had always 'depended on the kindness of strangers', in order to be transported. Those who had picked it up, often passed it on to other travellers, or left it where others might pick it up, and so it would navigate across the country, always (via some detours) ending up at its destination, a little scuffed maybe, but still recognisably hitchBOT. The creators would then go and rescue it, ready for another journey.

It started its fateful journey in the US on the 17th of July, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with its thumb raised skyward, a digital smile plastered on its face, and a piece of tape wrapped around its cylindrical head, that simply read "San Francisco or bust". All went well, as it got as far as the Boston area, and it was briefly taken out to sea (for what reason not one knows). One day, it even took in a 'Red Sox' baseball game (apparently checking off one of the items on the on-line bucket list that had been created for it), but hitchBOT never made it off the US East Coast.

The death of hitchBot, or Roboticide as its more correctly termed, was announced after its creators were sent an image of the vandalized robot, but couldn't track its final location because the battery is dead. They said they don't know who destroyed it, or why, but they were most concerned about any children who 'loved hitchBOT', and had followed its progress on social media. The team therefore declined to publish the last photo of it, to protect young fans who might be distraught.

hitchBOT in Happier Times In Canada

Still you have to wonder about the mind-set of the people who do these kind of things .... a bit like you might wonder at those who habitually pull the wings of flies, or torture pets. As this was a 'social experiment', I have to presume that there is some significance to the robots demise .... and if so, what does it say about it being the United States, where the little chap was executed?


  1. This is the first I've heard of hitchBOT, what an excellent idea! If nothing else it proves that "there's always one". The culprit may have been jealous of the well traveled robot. Perhaps s/he is a hitch-hiker who has trouble getting rides themselves? Maybe hitchBOT was taking up a coveted spot on the side of the road? or they may have been a keen fan of The Sarah Connor Chronicles and thought that they were saving the world from Armageddon.

    Of course I'd be tempted to name hitchBOT Marvin, especially considering it's depressing demise.

    1. Marvin might have enjoyed such an ending. "I have a million ideas. They all point to certain death."

    2. Yes, he reasoned that the more life was lived, the more suffering is endured and with a brain the size of a planet combined with first hand experience, he's probably right :
      “The first ten million years were the worst. And the second ten million: they were the worst, too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into a bit of a decline. ” – Marvin

      Not surprisingly a mattress called Zem (they're all called Zem) was suitably impressed with him:
      Marvin: “I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number.”
      Zem: “Er, five.”
      Marvin: “Wrong. You see?”

    3. Still with a brain the size of a planet he didn't come up with the meaning of life did he? "42", as I recall. A supercomputer, named 'Deep Thought', specially built for this purpose, took 7½ million years to come up with this, but of course the builders hadn't asked the question correctly.

      I think I prefer Edgar Allan Poe's answer .... “The best things in life make you sweaty.”

    4. Marvin didn't get a chance to come up with the meaning of life, it was calculated millions of years before his time.
      The problem with the question, the ultimate question, was knowing what to ask; it's no good asking what solanaceae like to eat if you don't know what a solanaceae is, the answer won't make much sense and it certainly won't explain what some of them were doing falling high above the mythical planet of Magrathea.
      Interestingly, Marvin also found himself falling from a great height - above the planet Brontital. He was disappointed that not even this could end his suffering.

    5. Well there's no denying that your encyclopedic knowledge of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is formidable ... likely requiring a brain the size of a planet!


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