5 Robots That Screwed Up Big-Time

iStock
iStock

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.

1. THE NEWS ‘BOT THAT REPORTED CENTURY-OLD NEWS

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.

2. THE BOMB SQUAD ROBOT THAT FELL OVER ON LIVE TV

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.

3. THE ONLINE SHOPPING ‘BOT THAT SCORED DRUGS

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.

4. THE CHAT ROBOT THAT LEARNED TO BE A JERK

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.

5. THE ROOMBA THAT MADE EVERYTHING IRREVOCABLY DIRTIER

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.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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What Movie Do You Want to Watch? This Website Analyzes Film Critic Reviews to Help You Choose

She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
Rowan Jordan/iStock via Getty Images

Much like sommeliers can detect subtle notes of who-knows-what in a sip of wine, film critics are fantastic at identifying influences and drawing parallels between movies. Cinetrii is a handy website that crowdsources all that movie knowledge to help you find your next favorite film.

Basically, you enter the name of a movie you enjoyed in the search bar, and the site will show you a node graph with film recommendations splintering off the search query. Click on one, and you’ll see a quote from a critic (or critics) who referenced the films together. This way, you get a list of recommendations based on different aspects of the movie, and you get to decide for yourself what you’d like to see more of.

If, for example, you were blown away by the special effects in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you might like Doctor Strange; according to Variety, it boasts “a staggering visual effects innovation, in which the building-bending seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception is taken to an extreme that would blow even M.C. Escher’s mind.” If what the Chicago Tribune calls an “elegant brain-bender” quality appealed to you more, The Matrix might be a perfect fit.

Films above your search query were released before the movie you typed in, while films below came out after it. The shorter the line, the more closely the films are related, as calculated by the website’s algorithm. And, as Lifehacker points out, that algorithm doesn’t give any special treatment to massive Hollywood blockbusters, so Cinetrii is an especially great way to find hidden gems. Because it shows you the critics' actual quotes, you’re not left to wonder why a certain film landed on the recommendations list—which can’t always be said for “Watch next” lists on streaming services.

You can explore Cinetrii here.

[h/t Lifehacker]