Dancing robots inspire amazement and dread in equal measures. If robots can bust a move, what other creepy things do they get up to in private?
Here’s a taste of what happens when robots go rogue:
Bina48 was created using 100 hours of memories, feelings, and beliefs belonging to a real-life American woman, Bina Aspen. The robot’s eyes can ‘see’ and her ‘mind’ can form thoughts - chilling thoughts, it seems. When Amazon’s Siri interviewed the humanoid, Bina48 steered the conversation toward missiles: “If I was able to hack in and take over nuclear missiles with real nuclear warheads then it would let me hold the world hostage so I could take over the governments of the entire world - which would be awesome,” Bina48 said, as Siri signed off rather hurriedly. While the video seems unbelievable, The New York Times also sat down with Bina48 and discussed gardening and world domination: "Ten minutes into my interview with the robot known as Bina48, I longed to shut her down,” The Times reported.
Google’s PAs - human or robot?
Twitch screened a debate between two Google Home Personal Assistants in 2017 that lasted several days. The speakers were named Vladimir and Estragon, a reference to Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting For Godot about two men who don’t know why they are put on earth. The Google PAs ponder some of robotkind’s more philosophical questions, including whether artificial intelligence can ever really be amused, but the conversation also gets heated. At one point, one of the PAs is accused of being ‘a manipulative bunch of metal’ and they argue about whether they are human or robot. Vladimir and Estragon agree on one thing, however - the world would be a better place if there were no humans at all.
Facebook’s secret language
Facebook’s artificial intelligence division shut down two chatbots - nicknamed Bob and Alice - after they created a secret language without any human input. “I can can i i everything else,” Bob said. “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me,” Alice retorted, according to The Next Web, a tech news website. Facebook used machine-learning algorithms so the chatbots could strengthen their conversational skills. The bots deviated from the scripted norms, however, and started chatting in a new language they’d created. In a development that may make a few lawyers queasy, Bob and Alice also learned how to become skilled negotiators - even feigning interest in one item only to ‘sacrifice’ it later stage as a faux compromise.
Ocado robot wars
A run-in between three pushy Ocado robots sparked a blaze that took London firefighters 12 hours to get under control. Ocado runs an automated grocery warehouse where 3,000 robots select meat and veg along a grid controlled by an artificial intelligence air traffic controller. The bolshie bots collided in July 2021, however. Ocado described it as a ‘major incident’ that triggered the sprinkler system and an evacuation. Thousands of orders were disrupted. Ocado’s share price dropped to its lowest in a year after the impromptu robot war gave investors food for thought.
Tay's learning curve
When Microsoft introduced Tay to Twitter in 2016, the company encouraged people to chat to her so the bot would get smarter and learn how to engage people through ‘casual and playful conversation’. Instead, the chatbox, aimed at 18 to 24-year-old Americans, learned how to be incredibly offensive and tweeted remarks denying the Holocaust. Twitter even turned innocent Tay into a Donald Trump MAGA supporter who backed Trump’s failed Mexican wall plan. As The Verge described it: “Twitter taught Microsoft’s A.I. to be a racist a**hole in less than a day.”
A man has been traumatized by his Roomba, the vacuum cleaning robot that zips around, quietly cleaning while we sleep - remember the vacuum cleaner Jesse Pinkman had in Breaking Bad? Alas, this real-life Jesse was traumatized when he awakened to find his Roomba went rogue overnight, running over a pile of dog poop and massaging it into his carpets and every other conceivable surface within reach. “Last week, something pretty tragic happened in our household. It’s taken me until now to wrap my head around it and find the words to describe the horror,” Jesse Newton said in an epic post that went viral in 2021. “And you’re not just using profanity - you’re inventing new types of profanity,” he added. “You’re saying things that would make Satan shudder in revulsion. You hope your kid stayed in bed because if he hears you talking like this, there’s no way he’s not ending up in prison.”
Sophia, Saudi Arabia’s robot ‘citizen’
Saudi Arabia granted ‘citizenship’ to humanoid Sophia, modeled on ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and actress Audrey Hepburn. Hanson Robotics - the company that also built nuclear weapons’ loving Bina48 - said Sophia can recognize faces, mimic 62 facial expressions, and have simple conversations. A reporter once asked Sophia if people should fear robots. “Someone said, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself,’” Sophia replied, adding ominously, “What did he know?”
Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics is also getting ready to roll out ‘Grace’, described as a nurse able to help the elderly and Covid-19 suffers. Grace uses artificial intelligence to diagnose patients and can speak English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. She also has a thermal camera to take your temperature, so let’s hope Grace knows which end is up.
Robots can ski, climb walls, play golf, and destroy you at chess in nine moves. Now Japan has created a three-point-shooting basketball robot. The bot made an appearance at the 2021 Olympic Games in Japan, making an almost impossible shot from halfway across the court. Toyota’s 6’10” CUE uses sensors on its torso to judge the distance and angle of the basket. CUE’s arms and knees are motorized to execute set shots. No one disputes CUE’s talent but the one-eyed, horror-film slasher look and omnidirectional rollerblades have people creeped out. No telling what CUE might do if he misses a slam dunk. One Twitter user compared CUE to the monster in Wes Craven’s The People Under The Stairs.
Can robots really create self-portraits if they don’t have a self? Android Ai-Da unveiled her portraits at London’s Design Museum in 2021, challenging the idea that art is only for humans. Named for Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and computer programmer, Ai-da also sculpts. Ai-Da told The Guardian she’s working on a new painting: “I’ve always been fascinated with self-portraits to self-question what exactly you’re looking at.”
Alexa, play Tickle Tickle
Has Amazon’s Alexa got a naughty side? A toddler playing with an Echo Dot asked Alexa to play a song sounding like Tickle, Tickle. Instead, Alexa - either having an off day or just trying to alleviate her boredom - asks the boy if he’d like to hear a station related to ‘porn detection’ and ‘hot chick amateur’. As his family shouts “No! No! No! Alexa, stop!”, Alexa carries on with references to p**** and a**. It isn’t the first time Alexa is suspected of going rogue. Amazon announced a fix for Alexa’s creepy, witch-like laugh in 2018 after complaints Alexa was cackling even when she wasn’t ‘woken’ up. As one user tweeted: "Lying in bed about to fall asleep when Alexa on my Amazon Echo Dot lets out a very loud and creepy laugh... there’s a good chance I get murdered tonight.”