The dangers of trusting robots

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
August 12, 2015

In February, a South Korean woman was sleeping on the floor when her robot vacuum ate her hair, forcing her to call for emergency help. It may not be the dystopian future that Stephen Hawking warned us about – where intelligent devices “spell the end of the human race” – but it does highlight one of the unexpected dangers of inviting robots into our home.

There are many other examples of intelligent technology gone bad, but more often than not they involve deception rather than physical danger. Malevolent bots, designed by criminals, are now ubiquitous on social media sites and elsewhere online. The mobile dating app Tinder, for example, has been frequently infiltrated by bots posing as real people that attempt to manipulate users into using their webcams or disclosing credit card information. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that untrustworthy bots may soon come to the physical world. 

Meanwhile, increasing evidence suggests that we are susceptible to telling our deepest, darkest secrets to anthropomorphic robots whose cute faces may hide exploitative code – children particularly so. So how do we protect ourselves from double-crossing decepticons?

Once you’ve invited a bot into your home, you need to manage your expectations. Movies and marketing may have primed us to expect sophisticated interaction with our robotic chums but we’ve still got a long way to go before they are as socially aware as they are often depicted. Given the gulf between expectation and reality, it’s important to avoid being tricked by a fake-out known as a “Wizard-of-Oz setup”, where users are led to believe that robots are acting autonomously when, in fact, human operators are remotely controlling some of their operations.

Read the full piece at BBC Future