robot on the ground
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
December 2, 2023 ·  2 min read

Robot Was Gifted With Intelligence; Did it Decide to ‘Commit Suicide’?

You know we are in the future when even a robot commits suicide. In the summer of 2017, a patrol robot named Steve in Washington D.C. rolled itself into a fountain and died. (1)

How A Robot ‘Commits Suicide

Steve was a Knightscope K5 security robot who patrolled an office building in Washington, D.C. While on duty, he rolled into a shallow fountain, tipped over, and drowned. Immediately people began expressing on the internet that it seemed as though the robot ‘committed suicide’ – or did it? (1)

Image Credit: Bilal Farooqui / Twitter

“Our D.C. office building got a security robot. It drowned itself,” wrote Bilal Farooqui on Twitter. “We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots.”

Knightscope took a look at the information in Steve’s black box to determine whether or not he was the perpetrator of his own demise. They discovered that the robot did not commit suicide at all. Rather, he was the victim of a technical error. An algorithm failed to detect the uneven surface that he unwittingly rolled on to. He skidded on the loose brick surface and toppled over into the fountain, where he short-circuited and, well, “died.” (2)

According to the company, Steve was mapping out the grounds of the office complex when he came across the fountain stairs and fell. They are using this incident to improve the technology to avoid this situation in the future. (2)

RIP Steve

Despite the real reason why Steve drowned, people still had fun with the idea that a robot might commit suicide. Steve, who made cheery-sounding beeping sounds as it made its rounds, was well-loved and would be missed. (1)

Employees of the office even made a memorial for the robot outside of the building.

Image Credit: Oliver Griswold / Twitter

“This is the memorial for Steve the drowned security robot outside our office on his charging pad. The future is weird.” wrote Oliver Griswold on Twitter.

Will Autonomous Robots Commit Suicide?

For some, this situation posed the question of whether or not independent-thinking robots in the future might become so human-like that they have the ability to become depressed. Perhaps it might be watching humans and the way we interact, like hugging, kissing, or eating delicious foods, knowing they can’t take part. (1)

Maybe it will be the existential knowledge that they are at the mercy of technological advancement: They will only be useful and wanted until the newest version comes along and makes them obsolete. (1)

Whatever reasons you can come up with for what might drive a robot to commit suicide, you can be sure that it is quite a long way off if technology ever reaches that point. For now, it will just be feeling-less robots who have technological malfunctions.

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  1. I Sink, Therefore I Am: This Robot Wasn’t Programmed For Existential Angst.” NPR. Scott Simon. July 22, 2017.
  2. The ‘suicidal robot’ that drowned in a fountain didn’t kill itself after all.” Independent.Fiona Keating. July 29, 2017.