A hitchhiker died recently in the streets of Philadelphia. The hitchhiker caught rides across Canada and Europe without problems until one tragic day in July of 2015. The hitchhiker was once asked, “Are you afraid?” “Of course I am, but that’s the price of adventure, right?”
This hitchhiker was actually a robot called Hitchbot, so it’s probably impossible that it actually felt fear or a sense of adventure. Hitchbot was made by two university professors in Ontario, Canada. Hitchbot didn’t have working legs, but it had arms made from blue foam tubes ending in yellow gloves with an extended thumb for hitchhiking. Hitchbot used that thumb to get 19 rides and travel 10,000 kilometers from one side of Canada to the other in 2014 without problems. Hitchbot had a camera, speech recognition programming, and chat software that allowed him to make small talk with the friendly drivers that picked him up. Hitchbot later traveled through Germany and the Netherlands without a scratch.
The kindness of strangers ended in Philadelphia, which is ironically nicknamed The City of Brotherly Love. I guess that love doesn’t extend to robots. Hitchbot was destroyed by some random vandals in July of 2015. Hitchbot’s final words on Twitter were, “My love for humans will never fade.”
153,424 humans die each day, and many more millions of people are suffering in one way or another. Maybe we shouldn’t be shedding a tear for a robot, but is it possible to feel empathy for a robot? The US military uses robots to detect bombs, and there have been stories of soldiers in tears when their robots were destroyed. One robot was even given a full military funeral.
Perhaps the real danger is not humans who lack empathy for robots, but robots that lack empathy for humans. In the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Terminator, humans create intelligent robots that decide to destroy the human race. Bill Gates, who is, of course, a major supporter of technology, recently warned people about the dangers of artificial intelligence. He says that AI could develop so quickly in the coming decades that we should all be concerned. Physicist Stephen Hawkings has said that AI “could spell the end of the human race.” And Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, says that AI is “summoning the demon.” He is so concerned that he recently donated 10 million dollars to research into the dangers of AI.
What do you think? Could AI one day decide to kill all of humanity?