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Robots continue to fascinate and impress us. Built by the human brain, they often exceed our expectations, and as technology continues to progress, robots continue to become more powerful than we could have ever imagined — even confusing those who created them.

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This is the case for Promobot IR77, who, despite being reprogrammed twice, keeps trying to escape a research facility in Perm, Russia. The AI robot, who is designed to have face-to-face interactions with humans, may have to be disposed of if it keeps seeking out freedom.

In what may seem like a scene out of Toy Story, the robot came to life and fled its confinements after an engineer working at Promobot Laboratories had left a gate open. The robot made it about 150 feet into the city before running out of juice. With its batteries mostly dead, it sat in the middle of a Perm street for 40 minutes, cars coming to a halt and traffic cops trying to wrap their heads around the situation.

A few weeks later, Promobot IR77 is still serving as an escape artist, trying to make its way out of the facility, even after being reprogrammed extensively to avoid the issue. But because it is so determined to flee, they may have no choice but to shut it down.

“We’ve cross-flashed the memory of the robot with serial number IR77 twice, yet it continues to persistently move towards the exit,” Promobot co-founder Oleg Kivokurtsev explained. “We’re considering recycling the IR77 because our clients hiring it might not like that specific feature.”

The robot was designed for easy human interaction, complete with speech-recognition software, a distinguished chest display, and a program created to recognize certain faces. It would be able to serve as a concierge or visitor guide. The team is also testing the machine’s ability to avoid obstacles, which is likely what gave Promobot IR77 the travel bug. Promobot co-founder Oleg Kivokurtsev explained that when the machine escaped the first time, “the robot was learning automatic movement algorithms on the testing ground.”

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Its creators say the robot might not make it to September since several rewrites have failed to fix Promobot’s wanderlust. “We have changed the AI system twice,” Kivokurtsev said. “So now I think we might have to dismantle it.”

Many people seem to be outraged by the potential “death” of Promobot, while others think it could simply be a publicity stunt to bring attention to the third generation of Promobots, set to debut sometime this year for $7,000 a pop.

Considering people are upset over the human-like behaviour of the robot, its AI malfunction being a setup seems totally plausible, especially since the Promobots are designed to interact with humans, taking on roles like promoters, administrators, and tour guides. People connecting with a robot’s desire to be free seems conveniently marketable.

Yet it’s not entirely impossible to assume the robot did, in fact, go against the grain, as artificial intelligence has gotten the best of researchers in the past, including Jeopardy‘s Watson, who had to be reprogrammed after being allowed to learn all the words on Urban Dictionary, which caused him to incorporate inappropriate lingo.

And if the robot is outsmarting its creators, fleeing for freedom, it wouldn’t be the first time such a situation had us questioning the use of robots.

Android Dick, created by roboticist David Hanson, who closely resembles the late, great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, was interviewed by a reporter from PBS Nova and said: “I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ol’ times sake.” This kind of statement is enough to make people wonder if we are, dare I say, enslaving AI, and they know it.

As for the motive behind Promobot IR77, only time will tell if it was actually acting out on its own.


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