HitchBOT Failure in America: Hitchhiking in a self-reliant society

Never was it more clear how far removed the academic socialists of the world truly are than in the social experiment of Professors Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith, the team that designed HitchBOT to hike across the world fueled by the kindness of trusting humans. The social robot only lasted a few weeks in the United States prompting much speculation on how mean and aggressive America is—as if to say that our national culture needs to change because our people aren’t gullible enough to pick up a strange robot and transport it across America like some Hollywood feel good movie. Here is how CNN reported the story.

(CNN)This is why we can’t have nice hitchhiking robots.

HitchBOT, the cheerful hitchhiking robot that had made cross-country trips across Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, had intended to travel across the United States as well. Instead, it survived all of 300 miles on the mean streets of the U.S.A.

Two weeks after beginning its U.S. trip in Boston, the robot was vandalized in Philadelphia, the team overseeing the robot said in a statement.

“HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City,” the hitchBOT “family” said on its website. “Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”


Hearing about this robot story I couldn’t help but think of the recent film Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garlan and staring a fine cast of young actors’ intent to make a point about wealth and artificial intelligence. Many who have seen the film see it as a profound work of art as a young female robot programmed to develop a consciousness uses its human male creators to earn its freedom, any way possible. It was an interesting concept, but it was obviously written by people who have not lived much life and have a long path along the highway of experience yet to traverse. It has a Santa Monica bubble around the concepts of the film that is typical out of Hollywood these days, where ideals of wealth, ambition, and intelligence are under developed and everything points to sexual experience as the mechanism of learning. This insulation from reality is extremely typical of academic types such as these two people who invented HitchBOT.

The other countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany where HitchBOT was warmly received are conquered lands rife with people functioning under socialism. Those are not exactly free places—not in the way that the United States is. It was foolish to expect HitchBOT to travel across America unmolested, because in the land of the free, people are able to express themselves freely. If they see some strange piece of junk on the side of the road, they are likely to want to interact with it in a way that does not violate their independence. Hitchhiking is a communal exercise. Bumming a ride is an action associated with communists and socialists—or 60s hippies, which is essentially the same thing. A robot with no rights bumming a ride in a culture that values personal ownership is doomed. Anybody should have known that, especially academics.

Even worse is that academics thought that the robot would survive the big city environments within the United States complete with all the gang activity that is typical in those cultures. Those college professors obviously are functioning from extreme naiveté about human behavior and their motivations. The ridiculous assumption that a living thing would naturally desire to communicate with another living thing just because it is there, is a desire created within the labs of academia with no basis in reality. To validate such a falsehood just study movie theater patterns in American markets and it will quickly become evident that people do not like to sit next to other people unless they absolutely have no choice. People like associating with people who share with them something in common, but random people without any knowledge of their interests do not mix well with the social patterns of others. Academics believe that if people would just speak to each other, than most of the problems of the world might vanish. They would be wrong. People do not associate with those who do not share common interests with them, and they are not motivated to learn if there are shared interests until they need something from someone.

The basics of communism dictate no ownership and shared values along with resources. College academics base most of their assumptions about the world on that value system. But America has been and continues to be, even in the inner cities, a land of individual value and liberty. A robot mooching rides across the country indicates weakness, or time wasted talking to something that has nothing to offer. Academics might consider that assessment mean, and selfish. But it is specific to Americans to place a value on whether or not an entity has a productive use. For instance, if I see a hitchhiker I never pick them up. Why would I? It would take extra time out of my schedule, lead to conversation that I’d rather not have, and put an imposition on me and my equipment that is unnecessary. If I saw a robot on the side of the road, it has even less value. What could the robot do for me that would be beneficial and justify the cost of my time? Nothing. So why would I waste my time with it?

To the academic, they assume that people’s time has as little worth as theirs within the college culture—where they get paid no matter how much time they waste. Since they live in a socialist system where productivity is not measured by output, but by emotional value, they think it’s nice to talk to people with no other assessment than to speak to another human being—just to get to know them. But to productive people, those who have lots of options with their time, every human interaction has a cost associated with it, and we are not always ready to pay that cost just for the benefit of being polite. People in Canada, the Netherlands and Germany might have nothing better to do than transport a robot across their countries, but in America, there are a lot fewer people per capita who have such time to kill.

Then to have such a strange thing travel through the hard streets of Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love,” the little robot found out fast that there isn’t much love in one of the founding American cities. It was a nuisance and an easy target for a frustrated culture. People didn’t want to get to know the little thing, not unless there was something in it for them. Being deemed useless, they extracted their value out of the robot with violence. To the naiveté of the typical academic, American culture looks to be cruel. But to the lens of reality, it is not healthy for a parasite to inject such an element into a culture that is judged based on its productivity.

In the film Ex Machina a wealthy Mark Zuckerberg type of billionaire is developing artificial intelligence and experimenting on its success with one of his employees at a personal retreat far away from civilization. In the film the billionaire was uncharacteristically “frat boyish” in that he drank too much, obviously had too many vices, and was a pretty regular slob of a human being trying to pretend to be a genius. The character behaves in a manner typical of someone who inherits millions of dollars, not one who made it from scratch. That is why the story doesn’t hold much water, because perceptually, human beings understand such things—and the character doesn’t pass the smell test, even if regular people don’t happen to know billionaires. It was a story written by ideological academic types making movies in Santa Monica—in a bubble of reality not reflective of the world outside of the valley. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Alex Garlan is from London, where socialism is as common as fog in that famous English city, and that socialist training certainly found its way into Ex Machina. That’s not to say that Alex Garlan is not a talented writer, just that he’s missing some things in the experience department. And that is the story of the two academics behind HitchBOT. It’s a cute idea, but it is rooted in a naiveté common to those still learning about human behavior from cultures foreign to American capitalism. To them the United States is a scary place full of aggressive individuals. But in reality, it is not the viciousness of those produced within that capitalist society. Rather, it’s about the fear in value assessment of those who judge such experiments as nonsense, and useless. The fear is derived from the opinion not toward the HitchBOT, but toward the academics themselves. They have great insecurity that American society at large, off the college campuses and Santa Monica bars has any use for them. And to a large extent, their fears would be correct.

Rich Hoffman


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