Two weeks ago, hitchBOT had a dream. HitchBOT wanted to travel from Salem, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California, ferried along by the kindness of strangers who would pick him up and drop him off on the greatest hitchhiking adventure ever attempted by a robot. Having already traveled over 10,000 km in Canada, from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia, and then hitching through cities like Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg in Germany, hitchBOT was a total pro, and planned to see the entire United States of America, ticking off a jam-packed bucket list along the way that included visiting a number of historic sites such as Times Square in New York City, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
But it wasn’t to be. HitchBOT forgot the #1 rule of hitchhiking when he decided to carpool across America: don’t hitchhike because it’s dangerous as hell and chances are you’ll end up in a ditch somewhere with your wallet stolen and your liver harvested.
Okay, hitchBOT doesn’t have a wallet or a liver, so that rule doesn’t really apply, but he forgot the other #1 rule of hitchhiking: you’d better bring a weapon, son, because them hills is filled with crazy people.
Having kicked off his American adventure on 17 July 2015, hitchBOT didn’t even make it out of the Northeast of the US - the Canadian research team behind the experiment announced today that hitchBOT was vandalised in Philadelphia.
David Smith from McMaster University and Frauke Zeller from Ryerson University write at their website:
"hitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City. Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalised overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots. We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question “what can be learned from this?” and explore future adventures for robots and humans."
Photographic evidence from Canadian journalist Lauren O’Neil shows that hitchBOT had been unceremoniously decapitated and left in a ditch somewhere, his arms removed and placed grotesquely alongside his headless body like sashimi slices displayed atop a fish carcass. We’ll never see that smiley noggin or his intestinal electronics again.
The sad, sad irony is that hitchBOT’s whole existence was an experiment to see how far human kindness could take him, and to see how humans would interact with this plucky little robot, out in the world with minimal supervision. "It’s a very important question, to say, do we trust robots?” Zeller said in an interview two weeks ago. “In science, we sometimes flip around questions and hope to gain new insight. That’s when we started to ask, ‘can robots trust humans?"
In this case, at least, the answer would be a big, fat "no". I guess the lesson here is that if robots want to exist in America, they’d better have a parent present.
The map below shows how far hitchBOT made it on his journey to hitch through the whole of the United States:
The team says they have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalised hitchBOT, and encourage everyone to just remember the good times. They’re giving interviews this week, so keep an eye out for those around the Internet to see how they are interpreting the results of this ill-fated experiment. I guess when it comes to science, their are no 'good' or 'bad' results, there are only results. And in this case, those results suggest that there is at least one enemy to robotkind hiding out in Philly, and sometimes bad things happen to good robots. But we already knew that, didn't we?