‘Was he programmed to do that?’ AI robot appears to touch reporter inappropriately

A handsy robot’s “fully autonomous” interaction with a female reporter had many concluding the AI was “Coded to be a creep!”

While there’s no telling when Hollywood depictions of androids and robots like C-3PO, the Terminator or even Johnny Five may become a reality, a new artificial intelligence unveiled at a Saudi Arabian tech event appeared on its way to earn the moniker R2MeToo.

During the DeepFest exhibition in Riyadh, robotics firm Quality Support Solutions Co. Ltd (QSS) unveiled their latest in AI technology in the form of their first robot man whom they dubbed ‘Mohammad.’

As Al Arabiya journalist Rawya Kassem covered the event, she appeared to get closer to the new creation than she bargained for as a viral video depicted Mohammad reaching forward and brushing her rear, earning a prompt reproach.

Facing immense scrutiny over behaviors and biases appearing to be coded into AI technology, like the seeming racism evidenced in Google’s rebrand of Bard to Gemini whose image generation avoided depictions of white people even if it meant representing historical figures inaccurately, QSS’s response to concerns did little to answer for how Mohammad had behaved.

Having described their creation as “fully autonomous, the firm told Metro UK, “We have already conducted a thorough review of the footage and the circumstances surrounding the incident and there was no deviations from the expected behavior of Mohammad, however, we will take additional measures to prevent anyone getting close to the Robot within its areas of movement.”

The DeepFest website described the AI: “His creation is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s unwavering commitment to technological advancement and ingenuity. Mohammad embodies the spirit of innovation that defines Saudi Arabia’s technological landscape, inspiring generations to come.”

Likewise, on the Main Stage at the event, the robot described itself, “I am Muhammad, the first Saudi robot in the form of a man. I was manufactured and developed here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a national project to demonstrate our achievements in the field of artificial intelligence.”

While some on social media were willing to disregard the action of Mohammad as that of human error, suggesting Kassem had merely been in the machine’s path as it was likely extending its hand in greeting after recognizing its name, others were hardly as forgiving of the creation designed to fill-in for humans in performing tasks in dangerous conditions.

Reactions included accusations that the robot, dressed like a Middle Eastern man, fit with stereotypical behavior, questions as to whether or not the machine was programmed to act like that, and assertions that it was “Coded to be a creep!”

Others wondered if, in naming the machine Mohammad, the creators had committed some form of blasphemy to the Muslim figure.

Kevin Haggerty

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