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Robots can kill…

The Bob Pritchard Column

Knock knock.    Who’s there?     A robot.    Oh, shit

Death in the workplace

In 1979, a 25 year-old factory worker named Robert Williams was tasked with overseeing an industrial robot — a one-ton, 5-story mass of gears that transferred car parts from the shelves to ground level. The robot struck him from behind, crushed his body, and left him to die.  He was the first person to be killed by a robot.

Since then, 60 injuries and deaths were caused by robots 

Who is to blame when robots kill people?

In a factory setting, robots are intended to “perform unsafe, hazardous, highly repetitive, and unpleasant tasks.” As a result, robots often don’t have the intelligence to detect humans outside of programmed tasks.  There are also no specific workplace safety standards for the robotic industry.  A disaster waiting to happen.  Often, these deaths occur when a robot has a mechanical issue and needs human intervention — but it can’t tell a human apart from an item it is programmed to grip, crush, or annihilate.

Kenji Urada, a 37-year-old maintenance worker in Japan died when a robot in Kawasaki’s state-of-the-art facility malfunctioned. Urada opened the safety barrier and attempted to fix the issue. The robot turned back on, stabbed Urada in the back with its arm, then crushed him.

A contractor at one of Volkswagen’s production plants in Germany has been killed after a robot grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate. A VW spokesman explained that the robot can be programmed for various tasks in the assembly process; in particular, the machine is programed to grab auto parts and manipulate them when operating in a restricted area of the plant. Will charges be filed? Against whom? 


Ana Vital, 40-year-old factory worker in California, was overseeing a palletizer robot, a robot that stacked boxes. A box became stuck and the robot mistook her for a box and grabbed her, crushing her torso. The robot had sensors to differentiate humans from boxes, but they had failed.

In July 2015,Wanda Holbrook, 57-year-old factory technician in Michigan was fixing a piece of machinery when a factory robot went “rogue.” The robot’s arm  took her by surprise, entered the section she was working in and crushed her head.  Her husband filed a federal lawsuit, being contested by the defendants.

Most of the time a robot kills a human, it’s because the robot is too stupid, not too smart. As such, blame (on the grounds of negligence) is typically placed on the machine’s manufacturers.  But as artificial intelligence progresses and bots become more than just hardware following computer code, the blame game will get a lot more complex.

Legal scholars are currently debating whether robots could be charged with murder.

In most countries, criminal liability entails two components: 1) An action, or the crime itself, and  2) Mental intent, or awareness of the crime. In a future where industrial machines have the ability to make their own decisions in this manner, robots could feasibly be charged with the intent to murder.

In a future where industrial machines have the ability to make their own decisions in this manner, robots could feasibly be charged with the intent to murder.

Machines are becoming autonomous at a rapid rate and every time something goes wrong, whether it’s a self-driving car death or a surgery mishap caused by a smart robot — it makes for a sensational headline.

Most robot-related incidents thus far have been the result of: 1) Machines being too stupid, rather than too smart, or 2) A disharmonious relationship between man and machine. AI is poised to change both.  Founder of the research firm Atonaton, Madeline Gannon has been working on improving communication between man and machine, a job that’s earned her the title of “robot whisperer.” Soon, she told The Hustle, robots will leave the lab and “live in the wild.” And time will tell whether they want to work with us or against us.

Apple computer pioneer Steve Wozniak once suggested that robots would turn us into their pets . Physicist Stephen Hawking and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk have also warned about the dangers of going too far, too quickly, in developing “thinking robots” with programmed intelligence that might keep evolving self-awareness, similar to the humanoids in the HBO series “Westworld .”

Hawking told the BBC in 2014 that “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

As robots get smarter what happens when they go rogue?  

Sex and Machines

When futurologist Dr Ian Pearson gazed into his crystal ball, sex robots winked back – he predicts that we’re all going to be making love to robots in less than 10 years.

Will this be a growing trend, where the robots could soon replace human interaction?

A European Parliament committee has voted to endorse a draft report proposing to grant legal status to ALL robots. “In the spirit of political correctness, the robots are to be called as “electronic persons” – so as not to offend them”

There’s a term, “robophobia,” for an irrational anxiety about robots and other advanced automation machines.

Can the  2004 science fiction movie”I,Robot” Become a reality?

Will there be a time where “robots” outsmart humans ?

Will robots kill us ? enslave us? Or, at best, will they take our jobs, one by one?

Or is this fear of robots comparable  to the 19th-century worries about steam engines?

Or areRobots just the next generation of tools?

What do you think?

Posted on August 13, 2018

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