Most right-minded humans are nervous that robots might one day decide to wipe us all off the face of the planet. But might the flesh-and-blood creatures be a threat to the silicon species?
That's the question posed by the creators of a new mechanised hitch-hiker, which is set to travel from coast to coast across Canada on a mission that will test how friendly people will be towards a robot.
HitchBOT looks like a cross between a street lamp and a bin, but wearing a pair of rubber gloves. Like almost everyone who lives on the happy continent of North America, hitchBOT is extraordinarily positive, with a permanent grin on his chops created from LEDs.
Also like most other people on the other side of the Atlantic, he has more than 20,000 Twitter followers and is getting more popular all the time.
"This project turns our fear of technology on its head and asks, 'Can robots trust humans?'" said Frauke Zeller of Toronto's Ryerson University.
"Our aim is to further discussion in society about our relationship with technology and robots, and notions of safety and trust."
She created HitchBOT in collaboration with professor David Smith of McMaster University, making sure it was entirely dependent on people.
To succeed, the machine will rely on human beings to take pity on it and decide to help it along the way. Although HitchBOT can't actually move without help, it has access to a range of trivia within its own memory, so it can have a very stilted conversation with its benefactors.
The freeloading 'droid has been designed so it's just heavy enough that it doesn't blow over on the roadside, but light enough to be scooped up and dumped into someone's car.
Thieves should probably look away now: it was built for just $1,000 and, to be honest, looks a hell of a lot cheaper. You would probably be best sticking to mugging old grannies or selling crack if you want to make money the criminal way.
"It had to be sturdy but also appealing to people," Zeller added.
"We wanted people to feel like, 'Yeah, I should stop to help that robot'."
The robot (or his human masters, if we drop this whole sorry charade for a second) has started a blog about the journey.
"I become excited because I realize how large Canada is, and I’m equally amazed at the variety of scenery Canada has to offer," HitchBOT said. "I can’t wait to experience what life is like in the Maritimes, surrounded by the great Atlantic Ocean. Is it more calm and peaceful than here in Toronto? Is it as lively and entertaining?
"On the other hand, I’m quite nervous because I’ll be hitch-hiking alone. My journey’s success is reliant on those kind-hearted souls that I’ll hopefully meet along the way. I’ll need to consider what to pack and where to go to recharge after a long day. Of course, I’ll also need to consider how to interact with locals — after all, it’s not every day that people get to interact with a handsome robot like myself."
So far, the wandering robot has travelled from Halifax to Toronto. It is travelling west towards Victoria, more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) from its home and on the east coast of Canada. ®