Was hitchBot destruction part of wider animosity to robots?

Rather than an isolated incident, the destruction of the hitchBot this week represents a fairly common phenomenon – robot sabotage – according to MIT technology Review.

The hitchBot had successfully travelled across the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada, relying on strangers for transportation. But shortly into its US travels, it was decapitated and dismembered in Philadelphia.

While commentators have been discussing what the destruction of the bot says about America, Matt Beane says that sabotage of robots happens more than we imagine. He cites an observational study he carried out of semiautonomous mobile delivery robots at three different hospitals. Many of the robots had replaced human workers, which seemed to spark resentments.

Most entry-level workers did not like this one bit. Soon after implementation, managers at all my sites noticed that some of these workers sabotaged the robots. This took more violent forms—kicking them, hitting them with a baseball bat, stabbing their “faces” with pens, shoving, and punching. But much of this sabotage was more passive—hiding the robots in the basement, moving them outside their preplanned routes, obscuring sensors, walking slowly in front of them, and most of all, minimizing usage. Workers and managers attributed these stories to an ongoing, frustrated workplace dialogue about fair work for fair pay.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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