Sally Hall: Could a robot be the perfect travelling companion

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Would you pick up a hitch-hiking robot?
It’s not a question most of us will ever have to ask ourselves. 
These days hitchhiking is a rarely-witnessed event, like men getting poodle perms and pubs serving wine in pint glasses. 
Conversely, the ‘futuristic’ vision of robotic assistants responding to our every command has been gradually downgraded until we’ve had to make do with an anthropomorphised vacuum cleaner that struggles with stairs. It seemed unlikely that, in the Venn diagram of global development, hitchhiking and robots would ever overlap. 
But HitchBOT has changed all that. 
Canadian academics created HitchBOT - a basic-looking robot with a bucket-head and big yellow thumbs. Its objective is to hitchhike from the East to the West coast of Canada. HitchBOT first stuck its thumb out on July 27 – and its journey is now almost complete. 
Programmed to be ‘charming and trustworthy’ enough to engage motorists on long-distance road trips, HitchBOT can converse about its history as well as requesting assistance with seatbelt fastening. 
Small talk is not its strong point, though. 
A typical opening gambit is ‘Do you like Mexican food?’, followed by ‘You just broke my heart’. 
Sounds more like travelling with an emotionally unstable takeaway junkie than a beacon of artificial intelligence. 
Photos of HitchBOT’s travels – and the intrepid drivers who stopped to pick up this odd hitchhiker – can be viewed at www.hitchbot.me. It provides an interesting alternative to predominant narratives about robotic technology.
Many of the films and books that envisage a future populated by robots – from Terminator to I, Robot – portray a negative scenario. 
In a world where we’re accustomed to asking if we can trust robots, it’s unusual to ask if a robot can trust humans. 
So far, HitchBOT has passed through Canada unscathed. No one has tried to attack or de-programme the cheery robot – despite its prediliction for quesedillas. 
HitchBOT’s exciting adventure reminds me of my own hitchhiking experiences. Although I’d never hitch anymore, it did prove a memorable way of getting around in my early 20s. 
Once I was picked up by two clowns, complete with red noses and big orange wigs. 
Another time I found myself in an old yellow school bus with a couple of hippy musicians from Alaska, taking a detour to some hot springs in the woods. 
As a teenager living in the rural Yorkshire Dales, I once needed to attend an important hospital appointment. There were no buses and I missed the only train that would get me there in time (two hours before the appointment, of course). 
So I decided to hitch a ride. 
It was my first time hitchhiking, and I was frightened – so I picked up a carving knife from the kitchen drawer and shoved it in a carrier bag with my appointment letter. 
The man who picked me up was very friendly and kind. Luckily, he was even a doctor at the hospital where I was headed to.

Would you pick up a hitch-hiking robot?
It’s not a question most of us will ever have to ask ourselves. 
These days hitchhiking is a rarely-witnessed event, like men getting poodle perms and pubs serving wine in pint glasses. 
Conversely, the ‘futuristic’ vision of robotic assistants responding to our every command has been gradually downgraded until we’ve had to make do with an anthropomorphised vacuum cleaner that struggles with stairs. It seemed unlikely that, in the Venn diagram of global development, hitchhiking and robots would ever overlap. 
But HitchBOT has changed all that. 
Canadian academics created HitchBOT - a basic-looking robot with a bucket-head and big yellow thumbs. Its objective is to hitchhike from the East to the West coast of Canada. HitchBOT first stuck its thumb out on July 27 – and its journey is now almost complete. 
Programmed to be ‘charming and trustworthy’ enough to engage motorists on long-distance road trips, HitchBOT can converse about its history as well as requesting assistance with seatbelt fastening. 
Small talk is not its strong point, though. 
A typical opening gambit is ‘Do you like Mexican food?’, followed by ‘You just broke my heart’. 
Sounds more like travelling with an emotionally unstable takeaway junkie than a beacon of artificial intelligence. 
Photos of HitchBOT’s travels – and the intrepid drivers who stopped to pick up this odd hitchhiker – can be viewed at www.hitchbot.me. It provides an interesting alternative to predominant narratives about robotic technology.
Many of the films and books that envisage a future populated by robots – from Terminator to I, Robot – portray a negative scenario. 
In a world where we’re accustomed to asking if we can trust robots, it’s unusual to ask if a robot can trust humans. 
So far, HitchBOT has passed through Canada unscathed. No one has tried to attack or de-programme the cheery robot – despite its prediliction for quesedillas. 
HitchBOT’s exciting adventure reminds me of my own hitchhiking experiences. Although I’d never hitch anymore, it did prove a memorable way of getting around in my early 20s. 
Once I was picked up by two clowns, complete with red noses and big orange wigs. 
Another time I found myself in an old yellow school bus with a couple of hippy musicians from Alaska, taking a detour to some hot springs in the woods. 
As a teenager living in the rural Yorkshire Dales, I once needed to attend an important hospital appointment. There were no buses and I missed the only train that would get me there in time (two hours before the appointment, of course). 
So I decided to hitch a ride. 
It was my first time hitchhiking, and I was frightened – so I picked up a carving knife from the kitchen drawer and shoved it in a carrier bag with my appointment letter. 
The man who picked me up was very friendly and kind. Luckily, he was even a doctor at the hospital where I was headed to.

Pleased to have landed on my feet, I chatted happily with him all the way. When we arrived at the hospital 50 minutes later, he offered me a piece of wisdom before letting me out of the car. 
“If you’re going to bring a knife to protect yourself when hitchhiking, carry it in a sturdier bag,” he advised. 
Looking down, I realised the blade had pierced the plastic and was pointing right at him. It’s a wonder he hadn’t thrown me out of the car. 
Mortified, I jumped out of the car crimson-faced. I wonder if HitchBOT would benefit from this advice too?

Dad Benji Cowart’s riposte to the US number 1 hit ‘Rude’ has become a big hit on social media – garnering praise all round. 
‘The Dad’s Side of the Story’ is father-of-three Benji’s response to Canadian reggae band Magic 1’s smash-hit, in which singer Nasri Atweh responds to a father’s refusal to grant his daughter’s hand in marriage by vowing: ‘I’m going to marry her anyway’. 
Benji (whose own daughter is still only 11 and thus unlikely to be subject to any unsuitable proposals of matrimony any time soon) felt that dads were being unfairly maligned by the song. 
He penned a response (to the same tune) with the chorus: ‘Why you gotta call me rude? I’m doing what a dad should do...keep her from a fool like you’. 
People seem to love the fact that Christian songwriter Benji is standing up for the dads of this world. 
But I’ve got to ask – where’s the woman in this story? 
It makes me squirm to see people championing this defence of patriarchy. 
Dads don’t get to say no – girlfriends get to say no. 
And boyfriends don’t get to ‘marry her anyway’ if dads say no. 
Weddings should only happen if the bride doesn’t say no. After all, she’s going to have to organise the whole blimmin’ thing herself anyway. 
Until there’s a response from the prospective bride-to-be in this hypothetical proposal scenario, I’d say it’s too early to go out and buy the confetti. 


I like a bit of a boogie – but the latest dance craze from America just makes me feel exhausted. 
Apparently New Yorkers have found a novel way of seizing back some socialising time during their punishing 70-hour working-weeks. 
Struggling to squeeze ‘fun’ into the tiny window between leaving the office at 11pm and falling into bed at midnight, the professional classes of America’s most cosmopolitan city have taken to organising pre-work raves. 
Yep, that’s right. A rave that starts at 7am and finishes by 9am. 
A rave where there’s no alcohol - but plenty of coffee.

The original sunrise rave, Daybreaker, has even spawned a copycat rival Morning Gloryville

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