This Comic Predicted the First Robot Suicide Over 40 Years Ago

The internet is abuzz with a Daily Mail report on the world's first robot suicide. A family in Austria claims that after performing its daily duties, their Roomba robot somehow "reactivated itself" and met its demise on a hotplate. The sullen machine started a fire in their apartment and after burning for nearly an hour, the robot's charred remains were left smoldering on the stove. We should've seen it coming.

Aside from the fact that this is clearly horseshit, it does make us wonder if our gadgets will ever gain sentience — and how that might be defined. As it turns out, we've been thinking about this question for generations.

The comic above was drawn in the late 1960s and shows a computer that somehow decided to off itself. "It's a Suicide Note!" the caption reads, leading us to question just how far machine intelligence will reach and what kind of emotional struggles come with those smarts.

Humans are known to anthropomorphize robots; assigning them emotions, motivations, and desires that they're clearly not capable of. But suicide seems to be a particularly important (if macabre) milestone in contemplating what it means to be human.

I've often said that a technology hasn't truly arrived until someone's filed a lawsuit against it. But maybe that should be amended to say that your technology hasn't truly proven its intelligence until it's killed itself.

We're not there yet. But until then, it couldn't hurt to sprinkle a little crushed Prozac in your bedroom's carpet.


Image: Circa 1968 illustration scanned from the 1976 book The Compleat Computer