SXSW: The 'No-Robot' Protest Was Actually a Marketing Stunt

Stop the Robots at the Austin Convention Center.

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People took to Austin’s streets on Saturday with a bold message for the SXSW throngs: fight the robots. Unplug them. Homemade signs read “Humans are the future” and protesters chanted, “You say robot, I say no-bot,” and “AI, Good-bye.”

Called Stop the Robots, the group said its goal was to shine a light on the dangers of artificial intelligence at the Austin conference known for celebrating new technologies. "We have to be careful that we don’t let AI, or technology, take over human roles in a way that is counterproductive to humanity," a group spokesperson said in Yahoo Tech.

Related: What You Missed (So Far) at SXSW: Flying Cars, Bacon Bourbon Cocktails

The group seemed to echo recent comments by Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and other tech giants about robots’ potential risks. Meanwhile, attendees like myself grappled with how the moment was finally here: we, as a humble human society, would fight back against our robot overlords. The fight was real.

Or not.

As attention swirled with coverage from major outlets like BBC and NPR, some felt the marchers’ website was too polished, their t-shirts too nice. Tech blog i09 started speculating whether the protest was legitimate. After all, the film Ex Machina had already used the conference to drum up interest by catfishing attendees with a fake Tinder profile.

Related: Talking Vegetables, Selfie Pods and More Insane Products From SXSW's Tradeshow Floor

Eventually, the truth was revealed: the protest was really a marketing stunt to promote a dating app. (You read that right. A dating app.) The digital tool, Quiver, depends on human connections to make matches, not algorithms.

The move seems a lost opportunity both for the artificial intelligence debate as well as the apps' own promotions, since the product has been drowned out by the protest buzz. 

For what it’s worth, I am completely fine with a world controlled by robot dictators -- mostly because they are benevolent and kind (and might be reading this), but also because I don’t think they’ll pull a stunt like this. 

Related: At SXSW: How Biotech Can Overcome Obstacles

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