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.

Twitter Bug Accidentally Alerted Users When Someone Unfollowed Them


Social media networks may notify you every time your former high school classmate has a birthday, but there's one piece of information most sites choose not to share with users. When someone unfriends or unfollows you, platforms like Facebook and Instagram will save you the pain of knowing about it. This is normally the standard on Twitter, but thanks to a new bug, some Twitter users have received notifications when people unfollowed them, Vice reports.

For several days in June, many Twitter users reported receiving push notifications on their phones every time one their followers removed them from their feed. The notifications didn't clearly reference the awkward situation: The bug told users that someone had “followed them back” when they had actually hit the unfollow button. People eventually caught on to what was really happening.

The bug apparently didn't affect all users, so if you unfollowed someone on Twitter in the past week or so, there's a chance they didn't notice. Though if they really wanted to know, there are third-party apps that show Twitter users who unfollowed them.

According to Fast Company, Twitter has resolved the issue and users no longer risk getting their feelings hurt every time they check their notifications. So feel free to continuing curating the list of people you follow in privacy.

[h/t Vice]

This Amazingly Simple Google Docs Hack Is a Game-Changer


The seconds it takes to manually open a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide on your computer are short compared to the time you spend working in them. But if you're already feeling stressed or tempted to procrastinate, the process of going to Google Drive, selecting New, and opening a blank document can be annoying enough to disrupt your workflow. For people looking to maximize as much of their time as possible, Google introduced a hack late last year that creates a new Doc, Sheet, or Slide in seconds.

According to TechCrunch, you can launch a blank Google Doc in less time than it takes to type out a full web address. If you're already signed into your Google account, simply go to your web browser, type in doc.new (no www. required) and hit Enter to go to your fresh, new document. For Google Slides, do the same for slide.new, and for Sheets, use sheet.new. It doesn't matter if you pluralize the name of the app: Typing doc.new or docs.new will bring you to the same place.

Google owns the .new web domain, which allowed it to create these convenient hacks for its users. If you're a frequent user of Google's applications, you can bookmark the addresses so they pop up in your browser suggestions with just a couple keystrokes.

The new document shortcut is pretty straightforward, but there are several more Google Docs features that make life more convenient for users in unexpected ways, including features for automatically transcribing audio and outlining documents.

[h/t TechCrunch]