1881: Drone Training

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Drone Training
The joke will be on him in a few weeks when animal control shows up and takes custody of his Roomba.
Title text: The joke will be on him in a few weeks when animal control shows up and takes custody of his Roomba.


In this comic, Black Hat enters a pet store run by White Hat. He wants to buy something to help him train his drone, which keeps flying into the wrong rooms. This is absurd as drones are semi-autonomous flying machines, not living creatures like dogs or cats, which can be trained to do tricks, or stay in the correct areas (inside his property). Alternatively, Black Hat could be developing a way to make drones sentient/autonomous in other to annoy other drone-owners when their drones don't obey them or to allow Black Hat's drones to annoy other people without Black Hat having to control them. He also wants a shock collar for his Roomba, which would train it to stay inside or at least on his lawn.

Cat repellents are devices or substances for training cats or repelling them from furniture or other areas. An example of a cat repellent spray which can be created at home as shown here: Friendly (but Effective) Cat Repellent.

Roomba is an autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner and controlling it by electric shocks from a shock collar, normally used for dogs, is more than questionable. Those collars are legal in the US but banned in nine other countries. A Roomba was previously mistaken for a dog in 1558: Vet.

This might be playing with the concept of machine learning. Knowing Black Hat, he might be poking fun at people's assumptions that modern robots are more advanced than they actually are. It is also possible, however, that he just wants to terrify people with the idea of robot abuse/conditioning, and even more likely that he genuinely believes he can force robots to obey him via inflicting suffering.

The title text may mean one of three things: The endeavor will become a total flop when the Roomba gets rid of the collar and terrorizes the neighborhood; as a result dogcatchers from the animal control service will arrest this "wild animal." Or animal control services will confiscate the Roomba to save it from its abusive owner. Or, possibly, the text refers to White Hat, who also owns a Roomba, and it will be taken into custody because it has not been trained with a shock collar.


[Black Hat stands in front of a store counter facing White Hat who stands behind.]
Black Hat: My drone keeps flying into the wrong rooms. Do you have anything to discourage it?
White Hat: Sir, this is a pet store.
Black Hat: Yeah, I was thinking one of those spray bottles for cats.
White Hat: I don't think you can train a drone.
[White Hat hands a spray bottle over the counter.]
Black Hat: Eh, they say that about cats, too. Plus, these days they probably all come with deep learning or whatever. Drones, I mean. Maybe cats too.
White Hat: Fine, here's a bottle.
Black Hat: Do you sell a shock collar that can fit around a Roomba?
White Hat: I'm going to have to ask you to leave.


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"This is the first comic to feature Black Hat, White Hat, and no other character." Is this correct. Which other comics feature both "hats".Zeimusu (talk) 14:15, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

I've removed this from the explanation. Even when this is true it's not worth to be mentioned unless this really has a connection to the content of the comic. --Dgbrt (talk) 15:24, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

Is that interpretation of the alt text likely? My initial thought was that Black Hat's Roomba would be taken custody of because of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. (Well, actually, it was more like "aren't shock collars a form of animal abuse?") 16:43, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

Seems we both had the same idea at the same time 😄, I have added an explanation to that effect. Feel free to add the additional details you know. PotatoGod (talk) 16:51, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

My interpretation of the title text is that Black Hat believes that White Hat's Roomba will be confiscated by animal control because White Hat is letting it run loose. In most American cities, you are required to keep your dog on your own property. This can be accomplished by a fence or pen, tying the dog to a stake or doghouse, or through the use of an invisible fence. A common form of invisible fence consists of a cable buried along the perimeter of the property which emits a radio signal, and a shock collar worn by the dog which beeps when the dog approaches the perimeter and then gives a mild shock if it gets closer. Animal control doesn't necessarily have to think the animal is terrorizing anyone, just that it's loose and could get hit by cars, dig up people's gardens, may be hungry or have parasites from living on it's own, etc. 18:57, 25 August 2017 (UTC)Pat

At xkcd Black Hat is always the bad (joking) guy. And when the "joke will be on him in a few weeks" it's clear that it's falling back to him. White Hat wasn't joking. Just imagine old fashioned dogcatchers from the movies trying to catch a Roomba... --Dgbrt (talk) 20:23, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
Deep learning

With deep learning (or any kind of actively learning Artificial Intelligence), drones can learn from their experience. The question is if you need spray bottle for this (that is, if there is some programmatic way to teach it, like marking parts of home that it should not enter in an app, or a feedback from app), and if the spraying the drone would actually work (if the AI would actually take it for a negative reinforcement). --JakubNarebski (talk) 10:33, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

Imho it would be really cool if you could teach an AI things without using any software, e.g. no programmatic way or app needed. Personally I'd prefer using a spray bottle over an app or similar. And I'm saying this as a professional software developer. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 10:55, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
It would still need to be PROGRAMMED to interpret spraying as negative reinforcement. Also have sensors capable of recognizing it has been sprayed. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:17, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
Of course, but that programming would have been done by the manufacturer (/edit: Or by the device itself). While I interpret JakubNarebski's comment as the programming needed to be done by the customer. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:07, 28 August 2017 (UTC)
60 years ago when televisions had vacuum tubes instead of integrated circuits and the picture would get fuzzy, you could teach it to behave by slapping the side of the case. *wink* Rtanenbaum (talk) 12:02, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
Indeed, but it didn't learn from it XD /edit: I'm not sure if you're exaggerating with the "60 years ago", though... It's more like 10 to 15 when CRTs vanished https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode_ray_tube#Demise. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:01, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
CRTs may have gone away more recently, but the vacuum tubes inside were replaced around 40 years ago. Raj-a-Kiit (talk) 17:41, 25 August 2017 (UTC)
Well, besides of the fact that a CRT _is_ a vacuum tube... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:07, 28 August 2017 (UTC)

I was going to say the statement that there's 3 possible explanations was wrong, that the other 2 aren't feasible, the title text means Black Hat's Roomba is being abused and Animal Control will take it. I had to read these comments to understand the idea that Black Hat could be saying this, and he's predicting White Hat's Roomba will escape and be caught. And now I like that version better, LOL! I forget what the 3rd is, which shows how unlikely I find it. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:38, 27 August 2017 (UTC)

The shock collar works with a wire surrounding the allowed perimeter of the dog/roomba. The same technology is used for automatic lawnmowers which are basically garden-roombas. So this isn't as far fetched as one might think...

Interesting .. are you proposing a new [Bechdel test](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test) for XKCD? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

My first wiki page, glad to see that what I wrote was kept! 04:29, 31 August 2017 (UTC)

The explanation omits what seems to be a likely idea, that Black Hat is a prankster who is deliberately winding up White Hat by pretending his devices are animals, while in the title text animal control seeks to out-prank Black Hat by doing the same.11:44, 15 March 2018 (UTC)

I always though that it was to be taken away because it didn’t have a collar on, to which Black Hat will explain that it’s white hat’s fault.

Roombs NEED to be leashed https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-60084347 07:37, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

Mitchell and Webb[edit]

I feel strongly that the comic is a reference to the "The Mitchell and Webb look" episode "Poison" (can be found on YouTube) in which a man comes into a series of stores increasingly unlikely to find things that can kill, hurt or maim people, yet still persists in trying to attain such a thing from the store's owner. It is implied that he wants to use what he buys in order to get rid of his wife, with whom he seems to have had a falling-out. Should I include the possibility of a reference in the comic's explanation?

Frankly, I'm surprised White Hat didn't think training a drone was a marvelous idea.