A humanoid robot's inappropriate touching of a reporter shows the machines still have so much to learn

Muhammad, the humanoid robot, is debuted by the Saudi AI and robotics firm QSS in Riyadh.
Mohammad, the humanoid robot, from Saudi AI and robotics firm QSS.QSS
  • Saudi Arabia's first male humanoid robot inappropriately touched a female reporter last week.

  • The video of the incident went viral and some X users called the robot a "pervert."

  • But robots aren't self-aware, so it probably wasn't intentional.

Robots aren't sentient — but that doesn't stop them from doing bad things.

Saudi Arabia's first "male" humanoid robot caused a stir after it inappropriately touched a female reporter at an AI conference last week.

A video of the incident at the DeepFest conference in Riyadh went viral when it showed the robot appearing to try and touch the journalist's backside. Some X users slammed the robot, called Mohammad, as a "pervert," while others hit out at its programmers.

Mohammad's creator, QSS, told Metro newspaper that it's "fully autonomous" and operates "independently without direct human control."

It's not the first time a robot has gone rogue. In 2022, a child's finger was broken by a robot in a chess match, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation, told TASS at the time that the child made a chess move and didn't give enough time for the robot to respond, so it grabbed him.

It's worth pointing out that robots aren't capable of feeling anger or having sexual desires, so it's highly unlikely that Mohammad made a deliberate advance at the reporter.

Or as Gill Spencer, an executive at robotics firm Engineered Arts, told Business Insider: "I'd say the responses reflect more on our human nature to anthropomorphize things that are actually not at all human."

Limited functionality

AI-powered robots remain far from achieving human-like capabilities, as Jeff Cardenas, CEO of humanoid robot maker Apptronik, previously told BI.

He said they're still relatively limited in functionality, so they aren't going to come for your job just yet and are much less capable of being self-aware.

As Cardenas said, they can only do a fraction of what humans can. Agility Robotics president Damion Shelton, whose robots are being tested in Amazon warehouses, also told BI that robots are still a "relatively new advancement."

But investors are throwing a lot of money at robotics firms as they're expected to change the future of work, with the most common usages being in warehouse settings to help move and carry heavy items.

QSS told Metro that it asked staff to inform conference attendees to "maintain a safe distance from the robot during its demonstration." It added that in future, it would "take additional measures to prevent anyone getting close to the robot within its areas of movement."

The incident highlights the need for humanoid robotics firms to remain conscious of potential unintended consequences, including ethical, moral, and safety concerns, particularly around human-robot interactions.

It raises the question of whether there's a need for greater safeguards in place to ensure humans go unharmed if a robot's conduct goes awry.

It also calls attention to how the machines can behave badly and also raises some safety concerns. But despite their increasing prominence, their impact on our everyday lives remains minimal at best for the foreseeable future.

Read the original article on Business Insider