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HitchBOT: An Enquiry on the Nature of a People

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Alternate title: "The Merits of Inductive Reasoning and/or Distrust of Skynet."

HitchBot, you poor delusional bastard...
HitchBot, you poor delusional bastard...
USA Today

Two things of sociological import happened this weekend: 1) Vanderbilt DE Caleb Azubike successfully riled up the group of troglodytic mouth breathers (though, oddly enough, not mouth drinkers) that makes up the Tennessee Volunteers football fan base, and 2) HitchBOT, the delightful dreamer of an R2D2 clone designed by Canadian scientists to test whether or not robots can trust humans, was smashed into a jelly upon arrival in Philadelphia.

I'll begin this column with the latter.  HitchBOT, a "Flat Stanley" for the 21st century of sorts, was an immobile low functioning robot designed as a fun, low stakes reversal on the sci-fi ultimate dystopian question, "Can man trust technology?"  This central exercise in posthuman existentialism is seen in everything from The Terminator to iRobot to The Matrix to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Blade Runner to perhaps the most terrifying example of technology's defeat of mankind: Cars 2.  In HitchBOT, researchers ask the opposite: "Can technology trust man?"

Of course, this question was posed in the lowest form of low stakes camp possible (think less The Matrix and more Short Circuit), and was likely designed to be later turned into an uplifting assembly shown to the world's elementary school students.

...and then they had to make it go to Philadelphia.

HitchBOT before and after Philly happened to him.

Immediately after this story was released, two reactions were voiced on social media: 1) "Don't judge a people by the actions of a few" (said exclusively by people in Philadelphia who did not personally commit robocide), and 2) "Of course this happened in Philadelphia" (everyone else).

Which reaction is correct?  Well, in the politically correct culture of post 1980s America, generations from X to the Millennials to whatever horror is to come, academics (mostly the humanities), and those on the political left have been conditioned to believe it's the former.  However, though I fit into all three categories listed, I grew up in and around Philadelphia, and let's just say there's a reason Rob McElhenney, Glen Howerton, and Charlie Day are not currently starring in It's Always Sunny in Vermont.

In saying this, I open myself up to attacks from everyone from well-meaning Philadelphians (of which there are many, and  they extend far into suburban South Jersey), to left-leaning cultural theorists, to anyone who was conditioned to believe that any form of judgment cast upon a people is painting with too wide a brush, and therefore, wrong both ethically and technically.

To those, I offer up a non-binary response.  The following two statements are both true and not mutually exclusive:

1) A large number of Philadelphians would have kindly picked up HitchBOT, taken photos with friends, taken it to an elementary school so children can participate in this fun, low stakes experiment designed to produce an optimistic view on humanity's future, and dropped it off safely at its next stop.

2) It was safe to assume HitchBOT would not make it out of Philly alive.

Again, I grew up there.  We played tackle football at recess from Kindergarten on, and even then, the daily mid-day explosion of violence was not enough to sate the aggression in us all.  Case in point: there was a kid who threw every single football brought in by his classmates into the fenced-off pond area adjacent to the playground on purpose.  Not "a different kid each time, plausibly by accident."  The same kid.  Every time.  At least once weekly.  For no reason.

Upon doing so, he received what can only be described as a prison yard beating.

This. Did. Not. Stop. Him.

Inductive reasoning tells us that enough singular examples of evidence can produce a general truth.  Had the denizens of Philadelphia simply thrown one rock-filled snowball at a drunken Santa Claus in Veteran's Stadium, you can't generalize.  Had they thrown but one battery at former baseball player J.D. Drew (or just thrown batteries at one baseball player, and not, as is true, a plethora of them), it would be wrong to jump to conclusions.  Had they simply beaten just one baseball usher within an inch of his life for dancing too much, it might be a hasty generalization.  Had they just gotten into one little fight, scaring but one mother into moving her son out with his auntie and uncle in Bel Air, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

But no, they did, multiple times, and we are.

Back to HitchBOT.  It must be noted that he successfully traversed parts of Europe and all of Canada.  He made his way through a phalanx of Massholes.  He traveled safely through the moral chasm that is Providence, Rhode Island.  He survived Mad Max: Fury Road New York.

Had the scientists devised an alternate route - one which went from Vancouver to the U.S. Pacific Northwest and then zigzagged throughout the entirety of flyover country - if it eventually reached the calming shores of the Delaware or Schuykill Rivers, it was as good as dead.

HitchBOT was never making it out of Philly.  Never.

All of this is to simply say that there is nothing wrong with the following tweet by Caleb Azubike.

Nothing at all.

Go Dores.