How To Peacefully Coexist With Robots

Sep 12, 2016

Robots are increasingly having to protect themselves from people after a rash of destructive incidents.

The behavior can come in the form of a loud screech, a polite request to get out of the way, or shivers, so people will feel sorry for them.

This is the robot with the loud screech, K5, who is currently patrolling malls, parking lots and schools.

After its screech, kids who were trying to block it go running away.

Hitchbot, a robot trying to make it from coast to coast, didn't and was beheaded in Philadelphia.

Carnegie Mellon University robotic professor Illah Nourbakhsh says when robots do things you don't like it's easy to get upset.  For example, a self-driving car takes the parking spot you wanted. "What if a robot stands in line in front of you at the theater because it has rich owners and it gets the last ticket. You're not going to be very happy about that and will you take it out on the robot?"

One robot Nourbakhsh deployed in California was the subject of an attack by a guy trying to impress his girlfriend. After that Nourbakhsh started using politeness to get people to do what the robot wanted.  "A museum robot would say,  'Excuse me. We are having a tour with these lovely people.' Upon hearing that people would get out of the way quickly, not because they respected the robot, but because they respected the people."

Long term he says we have to decide what the social mores are with robots:  Is it ok to be physically abusive to a robot? Is it ok to hit them? He worries this type of behavior could pollute people into being mean to other people.

The K5 security guard patrols with buddy bots, at just over six dollars an hour. This summer the parents of a toddler quite possibly felt like hitting the robot at a California shopping center after the robot collided with their child, knocking him down and running over his foot, all without stopping.

After that, the Stanford Shopping Center docked all of its K5 units until it could investigate. The robot's maker called the incident a "freakish accident," and apologized to the family.