Technology

Robot Escapes Lab – Publicity Stunt Or Cause For Concern?

In what might be a publicity stunt, a sign the robot overlords are not ready to take over the world – yet – or both, a robot escaped from its holding pen and ran around the streets of Perm, Russia Tuesday. The robot with a mind of its own was caught on camera frolicking around the city’s streets — and the company that promotes the robot wants people to know that might be able to see it at an upcoming trade show.

Robot Escapes Lab - Publicity Stunt Or Cause For Concern?
Source: Pixabay

Escape for freedom

Local Russian media was reporting that a machine named the Promobot v2 made its way onto a nearby street, moving into traffic and forcing cars to take evasive action to avoid the large, “George Jetson” looking robot.

“Our engineer drove onto the testing ground and forgot to close the gates. So the robot escaped and went on his little adventure” stated the co-founder of Promobot Labs, Oleg Kivokurtsev. “We were very nervous and feel bad that the robot has created traffic congestion.  I should say that drivers were very nice, and did not swear at the machine, simply passing it by.”

The robot was under development at nearby Promobot labs when they claim a gate was left open and the machine, who is being taught to navigate the streets and provide instructions to visitors, escaped. The machine was on its own for nearly 40 minutes and his exploits were well captured in both still and video pictures.

Police are seen investigating the incident and cars and busses avoid what was a potential traffic safety issue. Ultimately the bot’s battery crashed and the promotion company that developed the Promobot came to the rescue, returning the lost soul to its previous confinement.

The Promobot

The robot, known as Promobot v2 is a self-learning machine, designed for use in customer services. The promobot name is short for Promotional Robot and is a unique creation from Russian scientists. It can supposedly remember every person it has ever ‘met’.

It is able to navigate its way through busy crowds, interact with the public through answering questions and giving information on directions. It is being taught to move independently.

With the big loudspeakers on its belly, the BBC has suggested a less altruistic motive, as they could easily be used for promotional (or propaganda purposes)

Media stunt or should we be worried

It is unclear if the well-documented incident was a promotional stunt or a true accident. A well-curated company blog post loaded the following day documented the exploits and then ended with a product pitch.

“Active navigation system is not the only innovation which will be equipped with the new version “Promobot,” the web site said in translated Russian. “It will be a completely new product for the market of service robots, which will combine all the benefits of the products in this market.”

But what robot escaping story would not be complete without a product pitch payoff?

“We are now considering the opportunity to present the third version of our robot in San Francisco during the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference September 12 to 14 or in Moscow at the end of September 2016,” the blog post ended.

Artificial intelligence on the loose

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its capabilities are a controversial topic. Recently Google announced plans to develop an override ‘kill switch’ if an AI is starting to disobey instructions or is learning things that it really shouldn’t be.

We are seeing the gradual implementation of robots doing jobs that traditionally only humans would have been capable, including white collar and service industry jobs. The idea of thought and learning is central. For example, it is possible to make a computer that can beat the greatest minds around, but getting one to make a cup of coffee in a kitchen it has never been in before is a whole different challenge.

Security jobs and sensing suspicious people or packages was previously considered unthinkable but we are starting to see these being implemented in California

Robots and AI clearly have great potential to assist mankind. While this itself is a fairly trivial story, the idea of robots trying to escape, while developing independent thought may well become a more common story. And this could get scary as weaponized robots are also becoming a reality.