5 Robots That Screwed Up Big-Time


Technology doesn’t always function as designed. Computers freeze, autocorrect sends inappropriate responses, and robots accidentally ruin everything. Here are five times automated ‘bots royally messed up.


Today, news outlets can use artificial intelligence to create videos, crowdsource reporting, write up quarterly earnings reports and sports recaps,and even interview sources. In a field whose main tasks are verifying facts and maintaining accuracy, though, robots aren’t always up to the task of playing reporter. On the evening of June 21, the Los Angeles Times published a story about a 6.8 earthquake in Santa Barbara, California. The story was true, sort of: The earthquake happened in 1925, not 2017. The QuakeBot used by the Times wrote the story in response to an accidental update from the USGS, sent by a staffer who was merely updating the historical data pertaining to the 1925 quake.


When authorities in St. Louis sent a bomb squad robot to investigate a suspicious package near City Hall in September 2016, they didn’t expect it to become a viral internet sensation. But after it inspected the possibly dangerous item—which turned out to be a harmless duffel bag full of clothes—its state-of-the-art technological capabilities were foiled by a much more difficult obstacle. Like so many robots before it, it tried to navigate uneven terrain, and fell flat on its face, to the delight of the news crew watching the scene unfold from a helicopter. “It appears the bomb robot has tipped over at a hill,” the local FOX affiliate tweeted, attaching a photo of the sad ‘bot lying prone in the grass.


In late December 2014, a group of artists designed an autonomous online shopping robot to comb a Darknet marketplace, purchasing goods and sending them back to the Swiss gallery where it was on exhibit. Not all of its $100-per-week bitcoin budget went to illegal items, but it did order 10 ecstasy pills, bringing the project to the attention of the police. (It also ordered counterfeit purses and shoes.) The police confiscated the robot, but eventually released it and decided not to charge its creators.


In 2016, Microsoft launched an A.I. chatbot named Tay that could learn from interactions it had with people online. It was design to carry out real-time research on conversation using Twitter, Facebook, GroupMe, and Snapchat, among others, essentially learning to talk like a Millennial. Sadly, people are not always their best selves online. In less than a day, the ‘bot had learned to tweet out offensive jokes, and it was pulled offline within 24 hours of its launch.


Roombas are designed to vacuum your house while you sleep, chill on your couch, or otherwise tune out. Unfortunately, they can’t totally be trusted on their own. The tale of a 2016 Roomba “pooptastrophe” went viral after robot vacuum user Jesse Newton posted on Facebook about the night his dog’s bathroom accident collided horrifically with his Roomba’s automated run settings. In the middle of the night, his puppy pooped in his living room, just as his Roomba was about to begin its automated cleaning cycle. The robot vacuum ran over the dog poop and proceeded to spread feces throughout the house, ruining rugs, smearing poop on the legs of furniture, and so much more. So much for an effortless cleaning solution.

Somnox, Kickstarter
This Cuddly Robot Is Designed to Lull You to Sleep
Somnox, Kickstarter
Somnox, Kickstarter

For people seeking all the benefits of a human sleeping companion without the human part, there’s a new Kickstarter-backed product. As Mashable reports, Somnox, the self-proclaimed “world’s first sleep robot,” is designed to give you a more comfortable, energizing night’s rest.

The bean-shaped cushion is the perfect size and shape for cuddling as you drift to sleep. Beneath its soft exterior is hardware designed to get you to deep sleep faster. Somnox rises and falls to mimic the movements of human breathing. Lay with the pillow long enough and the designers claim your breath will naturally sync to its rhythm, thus prepping your body for sleep.

Somnox can also be set to play sounds and music. Some content, like guided mediation, lullabies, and gentle heart beats, come built-in, but you can also upload audio of your own. And you don’t need to worry about shutting it off: Once you've customized its breathing and audio behaviors through the app, the device does what it's programed to do and powers down automatically.

Having a robotic sleep aide will cost you: You need to pledge about $533 to the team’s Kickstarter to reserve one. Even with the steep price tag, the campaign surpassed its funding goal.

[h/t Mashable]

Big Questions
What Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Internet Users?

What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for the average American internet user?

Zouhair Belkoura:

The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers, and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy—the greatest information equalizer of our time.

With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality

What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.

What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet—the greatest collective trove of information in the world—could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.

Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge, and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer, too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.

Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.

Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals' Internet connections, because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN [they] also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.

Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise both people's and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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