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When Robot Face-Plants In Fountain, Onlookers Show Humanity — By Gloating

The rise of artificial intelligence poses its fair share of dangers. Last year, for instance, physicist Stephen Hawking said its development could be "either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity." And just this weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk described AI as a potential "existential threat" to human civilization.

But for now at least, we can chalk up one win against our future overlords.

On Monday, onlookers at an office complex in Washington, D.C., discovered a curious sight: the body of a security robot, floating face-down in a fountain. It was the remains of a Knightscope K5, an autonomous bot able to "detect unusual activity and report it for humans to investigate," according to the company's website.

Kristian De Meo of MRP Realty, which manages Washington Harbour, tells All Things Considered the bot was new to the facility. She says the robot — which they've nicknamed Steve, an acronym for Security Technology Enhancement Vehicle — "has spent a little over a week where Knightscope has been on-site programming it and also mapping out the property."

"Evidently, yesterday it faced its first challenge in the form of a small fountain," De Meo adds.

Knightscope tells NPR no one was hurt in the "isolated event," which the company is currently investigating. They say a replacement will be delivered to Washington Harbour at no extra cost.

As of this writing, no foul play is suspected.

In a tweet, Knightscope made light of the incident, quoting its bot saying, "I heard humans can take a dip in the water in this heat, but robots cannot." (Chalk another one up for humans!)

But the BBC notes this is not the first run-in these rolling mall cops have had with humanity:

"Last year, a 16-month-old toddler was run over by one of the autonomous devices in a Silicon Valley shopping centre.

"And earlier this year, a Californian man was arrested after attacking a Knightscope robot.

"The man, who was drunk at the time of the incident, later said he wanted to 'test' the machine, according to Knightscope."

At any rate, the bystanders who watched the robot's rescue in person and on social media Monday demonstrated one quality that still sets us apart from the things we have created: the capacity to gloat.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.