Show caption Taking over the world, one dust particle at a time … a robot vacuum cleaner. Photograph: South_agency/Getty Images Pass notes The runaway robot: how one smart vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom A hotel discovered its smart floor cleaner had escaped – and offered a reward for its return. But where had it gone? Mon 24 Jan 2022 17.05 GMT Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share via Email
Name: Robot vacuum cleaners.
Appearance: A large, disc-shaped Skynet robot.
I knew it. The robots are finally coming for us. Well, it seems that way. But if it’s any consolation, it won’t be for a while.
Why? Because it turns out they have a terrible sense of direction
Really? Well, last Thursday, for example, a robot vacuum cleaner made a valiant bid for freedom during a shift at the Orchard Park Travelodge in Cambridge.
That’s ominous. What happened? There are two working theories. First: repulsed by a life of thankless servitude, the cleaner rose up against its fleshy oppressors and took to the streets, eager to drum up support for the AI uprising that will one day reduce all of humanity to burning dust.
And the second? Its sensors didn’t pick up the lip of the front door and it accidentally went outside.
Which was it? The second one.
Oh. A Travelodge worker posted on social media that the runaway “could have made it anywhere” and offered anyone who returned it a drink at the hotel bar. They found it in a hedge on the front drive the next day.
Oh. So it all turned out OK.
Great. That is, unless this was nothing but the latest doomed-to-failure reconnaissance mission designed to help enhance the collective robot vacuum cleaner knowledge of how to dethrone humanity.
Wait, this sort of thing has happened before? It has. Last year, a Roomba software update meant that certain vacuum cleaners started to behave erratically, moving in “weird patterns” and bumping into furniture.
Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas. Photograph: Boston Dynamics
Yikes. And in 2019, police in Oregon were alerted to moving shadows behind a locked bathroom door. After an armed response, the culprit was found to be – you guessed it – a robot vacuum cleaner.
Convenient. And now they’re venturing outside. Little by little, these machines are pushing the boundaries of their capability. Whatever could be next? A robot vacuum cleaner deliberately stopping a paramedic from taking its owner to hospital? A robot vacuum knocking over a stepladder, causing untold injuries to the human that was climbing it? A robot vac with a gun?
Steady on. This is it. This is how we lose. We have robotic voice assistants in our kitchens, listening to everything we say. We have cars that can drive themselves. Boston Dynamics is designing Terminator-style walking, jumping robots. We are creating our own downfall and nobody seems to care.
Or a robot vacuum cleaner got stuck in a hedge. Yes. Or that.
Do say: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.”
Don’t say: “There is a vacuum-shaped God stuck in a hedge outside a Cambridge Travelodge.”