First things first. “HitchBOT,” for all practical purposes, was a garbage can with an iPhone in it. It could not walk or stand or fire lasers or open a can of beans. By what standard was this piece of useless shit a “robot” in the first place? The answer: a shabby standard. A Canadian one.
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My children have a box full of toys. It cannot stand or walk or fire lasers or open a can of beans. Inside this box of toys, there is a battery-powered Iron Man mask that, on occasion, will activate in the middle of the night and make weird noises; I can hear it from my bedroom. This box is not a robot. If I left it on the curb, it would not be a hitchhiking robot; it would be litter. If beating the shit out of it would be a weird thing to do, fine; so would taking it to a baseball game. So would mourning for it when some of its contents were separated from each other.
Canadians made hitchBOT, which is to say that they crudely assembled a broadly anthropomorphic heap of refuse and left it someplace for strangers to take care of for them. It traveled across Canada and Europe for some reason, experiencing nothing, doing nothing, being all the while nothing more than a loudmouthed freeloading bucket. Then it came to the United States, where it caught a richly deserved beating, just like Canada’s hockey teams do when they come here. I do not know what motivated this beating; if it was revulsion at the very notion of a smarmy Canuck trash can with the temerity to expect favors, that’s reason aplenty.
The impulse, here, is to say that hitchBOT was “destroyed,” but that is nonsense; what is the actual consequence to hitchBOT of detaching its parts? A loss of function? What function? It had no function. It was a pile of trash. Providing a cathartic release for some pissed-off Eagles fan is the closest it has ever come to usefulness. In its violent disassembling, it found, briefly and for the first time, an actual purpose.
If our guileless, simpleton neighbors to the north wish to draw faces on their buckets and treat them like friends, the sparse population density of their pine-fresh taiga wilderness makes this a sad but understandable choice, but the United States is not a receptacle for twee Canadian garbage. It is a grownup land where the humans know each other and do not ameliorate the loneliness of car trips by picking up roadside litter and befriending it.
The United States has many actual robots; they assemble Chevrolets, and throw pitches, and do battle on TV, and fall down, and probably other things too. The day the United States has need for a malingering robo-hobo with no skills that sits next to the road like a bag of shit and asks people to do things for it, we will build one for ourselves, and have the good sense to give it lasers.
Photo via AP