Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hitchbot, we hardly knew ye

Canada has a long history of trying social experiments out on the U.S. For example, Celine Dion. But its latest one feels like a setup.

A handful of Canadian professors created a festive-looking robot and sent it out into the world to "hitchhike." The question they wanted answered was, "Can robots trust humans?"

Well, it turns out that Hitchbot can trust Canadian humans and Dutch humans and German humans, but not the denizens of Philadelphia. After just two weeks in the states, Hitchbot's head and arms were torn off and its body discarded roadside like a bad Kardashian spinoff. Well, like a Kardashian spinoff.

With arms and legs made of blue foam "pool noodles," whimsical yellow rain boots and a large bucket-like head, Hitchbot was bound to get a beatdown in the U.S. Our tolerance for bucket-heads generally only extends to presidential hopefuls. We may be on the road to "post-racial" but I don't think Americans will ever be "post-robot." And certainly not "post-blue legs/yellow boots." Hitchbot could have been assaulted on grounds of fashion alone.

He was supposed to be picked up by altruistic motorists and driven around the country like a real hitchhiker, except without getting slain. Somebody in Philly jumped straight to the slaying part, which is just un-American. We are a car culture after all.

Hitchbot's never-completed "bucket" list included tanning at Myrtle Beach, seeing Yellowstone geysers and posing with the Hollywood sign. One could also add to his list, I suppose, the return of his own bucket at this point.

I might be tempted to think this whole thing was a setup to make Americans look bad compared to Canadians, except:

a) Canadians are too nice to even think of that, and
b) We don't need any outside help to pull that off

Hitchbot was powered by an iPhone in its head, evidently, which is reason enough for the decapitation and theft, and it's too bad the Canadians did not have the suspicious forethought to set up its "find my phone" function. Even if they had, I doubt that Canadians would go after the thieves. They would probably consider that too rude.

I like Canada. It gave us William Shatner and maple syrup. But it embraced its British forebears while we threw ours out and invented freedom. And, unfortunately for them, we eat social experiments for breakfast.