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Robot goes berserk in Balkan lab: 6 boffins given dead arms

Vending-machine repair unit's violent rampage

The location: Deep in remote East-central Europe, the very stamping grounds of Igor and Dr Frankenstein. The scene: A laboratory, where dedicated scientists are toiling to create powerful artificial servants for the betterment of humanity - admittedly, using methods that their professional colleagues might deem questionable.

We all know what happens next. But life just isn't like that in reality.

Except that today it is, because reports are coming in from Slovenia of a horrifying and yet unambiguously newsworthy incident in which several scientists have reportedly been set upon and brutally beaten by a robot they were working on in their Ljubljana laboratory.

"A powerful robot has been hitting people over and over again," reports New Scientist, which broke the news of the mechanical rampage to an astonished world.

The pop-sci mag goes on to describe the robotic beatings in horrific detail. No fewer than six Slovenian boffins, all thought to be male, were struck "repeatedly on the arm" during the laboratory incident, in which a robot of a type normally employed in assembling vending machines went violently berserk and bludgeoned the men with an assortment of blunt instruments or sharp tools it had picked up using its powerful, motorised articulated arm.

There are sinister hints - indeed, outright assertions - in the article that in fact the droid assailant had been purposely programmed to attack the men by one of their colleagues, Borut Povše, a junior robot boffin at the University of Ljubljana. The six men were said to have suffered pain and injuries ranging from "mild" to "unbearable" as the rogue machine administered vicious and repeated dead arms.

Povše brazenly defended his actions to the magazine, insisting that the robot attacks had not been a malicious prank or prompted by nefarious motives - for instance professional jealousy, or a desire to conquer the world at the head of an invincible army of robotic playground bullies.

Rather, Povše contended, he had instructed his metal henchman to attack the other scientists in order to discover better ways to program robots not to hurt people. Amazingly, this flimsy story was apparently accepted by some elements of the roboboffinry community.

"Determining the limits of pain during robot-human impacts this way will allow the design of robot motions that cannot exceed these limits," German space-agency brainbox Sami Haddadin commented to New Scientist, adding that he personally had programmed one of his own robots to attack him with a knife earlier this year in the style of Inspector Clouseau and his servant Kato.

More mainstream scientists active in the field of powerful mechanical servants, however, looked askance on the Slovenian boffin's methods. Texas-based specialist Michael Liebschner brought an American perspective on hearing of the affair, commenting "that's when litigation starts". ®

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