World’s first robotic psychiatrist speaks out on hitchBOT attack

“Dr. Joanne” hopes assault on small robot hitchhiker will be catalyst for fair robotic laws

San Francisco, CA August 10, 2015

HitchBOT, the beloved little robot developed by Canadian professors and the first robot to embark on a hitchhiking journey across America, was found vandalized and dismembered in Philadelphia on August 1, according to a CNN report. (hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, gets beheaded in Philadelphia, August 4, 2015)

Joanne Pransky or "Dr. Joanne," known as the "World's First Robotic Psychiatrist®," said today that she hopes hitchBOT's experience becomes a catalyst for future robotic laws that don't treat robots as property that may be vandalized or stolen, but as possible victims of assault and battery with appropriate legal ramifications for human violators.

The attack ended hitchBOT's two-week American trip which began in Massachusetts and followed journeys across Canada and visits to Germany and the Netherlands. Until the attack, those journeys were marked by heartwarming human love and enthusiasm. The Boston Globe ("RIP, hitchBOT: Canada's cheerful hitchhiking robot destroyed at age 2," August 3, 2015).

HitchBOT's creation and journey was a social experiment conducted by researchers from Ontario's McMaster and Ryerson universities to find out how people respond to smart technologies and to answer the question "can robots trust human beings?"

HitchBOT creator David Harris Smith told CNN, "Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots, e.g. as helpers in our homes. But this project takes it the other way around…"

HitchBOT's creators will not be pressing charges against the assailants and want to focus on all the good things that happened to hitchBOT.

The robot is quoted on the project's website,, saying "…I live on back home and with all my friends. I guess sometimes bad things happen to good robots."

Pransky said she applauds the research family's generosity of spirit, but she would like to see this incident provide a foundation for development of fair legal protections for the robots that are increasingly part of the world's human family.

"I began my journey as a robotic psychiatrist nearly 30 years ago when robotic influence on society was fairly new," she said. "But I could see that the relationship between humans and robots could be complicated, that sometimes a sensitive, well-informed, psychologically astute third party might need to step in and mediate issues and smooth the way for effective interactions. I love people and technology so I decided to focus on the evolving societal changes brought about by robots as the "World's First Robotic Psychiatrist."

Pransky has consulted on multiple robotics projects, including the film "Ender's Game", and appeared on CNN and many other media outlets. She has been speaking nationally and internationally for more than 25 years on the social aspects of robots.

In the early 1990s, she predicted that "robo-law" would one day be the largest field of law in human history.

Along with discussion of appropriate legal ramifications for his attackers, Pransky said that hitchBOT's story brings up several related issues:

Protection of robots - How do we protect our robots from being damaged, either by other humans or other robots, AI, hackbots, etc.? This adds to the current discussions of cyber and now personal robot security.

Personality defects of alleged abusers: In the case of hitchBot, most of the world has fallen in love with an adorable robot they never met. This is anthropomorphization: ascribing human form or attributes to things not human. HitchBOT is childlike so hurting it evokes emotions toward the alleged abuser usually reserved for those who hurt children. How valid are these emotions? How seriously should we take this attack?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for robots: Treatment for PTSD may be called for once hitchBot is back up and running and perhaps needed for other robots following traumatic incidents. Pransky has offered the Canadian team free therapy for HitchBOT, focused on helping the small robot cope with the recent trauma and hit the road again with verve and enthusiasm!

Pransky hopes hitchBOT returns to its journey and continues to bring people and technology together. As the appealing robot says on its website: "My trip must come to an end right now, but my love for humans will never fade."

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