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.