Robot civil servant in South Korea commits “suicide”
07/05/2024 // Ava Grace // Views

A civil servant robot in South Korea's North Gyeongsang province committed "suicide" by hurling itself down a flight of stairs.

The robotic assistant was reportedly employed as an administrative officer in the city of Gumi in North Gyeongsang. On June 26, the Gumi City Council announced that the robot had ostensibly deactivated itself.

An official with the city council recalled that a week prior, the robot had been seen "spinning in one place as if something was wrong" before falling two meters from the top of a staircase. "Parts of the robot have been collected and will be analyzed by the manufacturer," the official added.

California-based startup Bear Robotics made the robotic assistant, which was assigned to an administrative role at the council last August. It worked transporting documents around the city hall, assisting visitors and promoting the city. Unlike most robots confined to a single floor, the robot could call an elevator and move between floors on its own.

The now-deactivated robot worked from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and even had its civil service officer card. Following its demise, the city council said there are no plans to adopt a replacement for it as of writing.

Officials, media mourn "death" of Gumi's robot civil servant

"It was officially a part of the city hall, one of us. It worked diligently," said another city official. Local media outlets also picked up on the incident, running headlines with questions such as "Why did the diligent civil officer do it?" and "Was work too hard for the robot?"

Social media has also been abuzz with reactions ranging from poignant tributes to the fallen robot to serious discussions about the ethical implications of artificial intelligence (AI) sentience and the potential for robot suffering. One user went against the grain, expressing in a post their hopes that the robot "rests in peace." (Related: 99.9% CHANCE: Top scientist predicts AI wipeout of humanity.)

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South Korea is one of the most enthusiastic users of robots globally. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the country has one industrial robot for every 10 employees.

While local media has touted the incident as the first-ever robot suicide in South Korea, it was not the first in the world. The Gumi City Council robot's demise was preceded by a 2017 incident in Washington, D.C. involving Steve the security robot.

Steve reportedly drowned in a decorative water fountain after five steps in, with pictures of it laying on its side making the rounds on social media. Users also put in their two cents on the incident at the time, "triggering a wave of gallows humor questioning the preciousness of artificial life" as per Russia Today.

However, it was later found that the Steve robot's demise wasn't because of a "glitch" that made it self-delete. The security robot's black box data indicated that it had slipped on a "loose brick surface" that led it to plunging into the water fountain.

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