A South Korean Local Government Hired an AI Robot for Administrative Tasks. It ‘Took Its Own Life’ After a Year

  • The “Robot Supervisor” shattered into pieces after falling down the stairs at Gumi City Council.

  • Officials stated that the robot was “officially” just another colleague.

South Korea
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Robotics plays a significant role in South Korea. The country, home to companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, has the highest concentration of robots globally. As such, it’s common to see these machines performing tasks in factories, assisting the elderly, and even conducting orchestras.

The trend of incorporating robots into several fields has advanced to the extent that the Gumi City Council in Gyeongsang Province appointed its first robotic official in August 2023. The device, known as the “Robot Supervisor,” has recently been involved in an incident.

The Robot That Fell Down a Staircase

On June 27, the robot was performing administrative tasks when it fell down a 6.5-foot-high staircase and was severely damaged, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported. Officials later found the robot out of service, smashed to pieces, with several of its parts scattered at the scene.

According to the South Korean outlet YTN, the news has stirred a myriad of comments on social media. Some South Korean users have referred to the incident as “the country's first robot suicide,” while others have posted messages such as “I pray that scrap metal rests in peace” or “That’s how scary overwork is.”

Now, authorities have launched a formal investigation to identify the causes of the incident and prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Ultimately, the device could have harmed a person during its fall. Additionally, the city hall was paying a monthly fee for its services.

Gumi City Council Gumi City Council civil servants look happy after receiving the robot in August 2023.

The contract stipulated a monthly payment of 2 million won (about $1,440) to Bear Robotics, the company that owns the robot. The robot’s primary function was transporting documents between the city hall’s floors. It operated from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and was issued its own official identification card.

Although the robot was powered by artificial intelligence, it’s highly improbable that it experienced an “awakening” that led it to throw itself down the stairs deliberately. Some witnesses of the incident reported to AFP that they observed the robot behaving erratically and spinning around.

Officials have expressed their sentiments regarding the loss of their robotic coworker. They stated that it was “officially a part of the city hall” and “worked diligently” during its operational period. Nevertheless, the Gumi City Council has indicated that, at least for the time being, they don’t have plans to replace the defunct robot.

Image | Gumi Urban Corporation

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