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Robots evolving to defend themselves as people prove dangerous

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People will need to respect robots while understanding they're still machines.

Security robots have gone to work in a Silicon Valley mall and designers are shocked at the reactions they're getting from the public. The mixed response means the robots have to be capable of protecting themselves if needed.

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LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - On August 1, the world's friendliest robot was found decapitated and utterly destroyed by an unknown assailant or group. HitchBOT was designed to hitchhike across the United States but it only lasted for two weeks and visited just two locations on its bucket list.

The smiling, humanoid robot was a social experiment. How would people react to a friendly, hitchhiking robot that only needed a ride? While most people HitchBOT encountered were friendly, there was at least one person too many who was not. The incident underscored the need to create robots that can protect themselves.


Robots are expensive, and they will be for the foreseeable future. They will also be trusted with a variety of responsibilities. They will fill critical roles in the world of tomorrow, so they will need to be kept safe like the investments they are.

In Japan, a robot designed to help seniors with their grocery shopping was attacked by children. When the robot protested as it was programmed, the children didn't stop. They kicked the machine, and one child reportedly hit it with a bottle.

Designers say they have been put into a difficult situation by Hollywood. Homicidal robots have become such a staple of science fiction that they feel they have to make the robots friendly. The machines are given faces, either literally or virtually through strategic placement of sensors in the pattern of a face. The Aido robot for the home is essentially a self-propelled tablet with some value added features, but the tablet, which is also its face, can display giant, digital eyes that are so cute you can't help but love the machine.

Features like this make the robots approachable and people are much more willing to interact with the machines. But even this can go too far.

In a Palo Alto mall, a small team of Knightscope K5 robots is on patrol, recording what they see, and keeping an eye out for fires. Among its special abilities, the robot has the ability to scan license plates to look out for disgruntled employees or other persons of interest.

The K5 has no means of attack, but that doesn't mean it's defenseless. When it was recently surrounded by a crowd of adoring children, the machine let out a loud screech that scattered the kids.

A K5 sent to work in an office complex had another noteworthy experience, it turned up with a red lipstick kiss, likely a courtesy of an adoring worker. Others have described the glossy-white, rotund machine as "cute" and "approachable."

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Yet for all the human emotions the K5 and other robots inspire, they are still machines. They are not conscious, they have no thoughts, they do not think or dream. They have no more feelings than a rock. Indeed, these machines are simply chips of silicon and gold, plugged into powerful batteries whose streams of electrons across their million of circuits move their component parts. They have been designed to behave in a way that makes them seem human to actual humans, but no matter how real they appear to be, they remain machines.

It makes as much sense to plant a kiss on a K5, or to pick up a HitchBOT as it does to kiss the hood of your car or pick up a pet rock with google eyes glued on.

In the world of the future, robots will be made to blend in with human surroundings, and they will do such a good job of it, we will develop unwarranted feelings and attachments to these machines, much the way we already do to machines today. Imagine feeling as attached to a robot as you would be to a new luxury car. It's inevitable.

It's important people learn to respect robots while also understanding robots are merely machines that can only simulate humanity; we must always keep in mind, they are not living things.

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