See disclaimer at the end of this article if you are of a more literal nature...
I've seen lots of pictures and videos of some of the cool new robots Boston Dynamics has been developing. Spot, WildCat, Cheetah, and ATLAS. These are all pretty awesome developments in robotics, and some could say it's getting a bit creepy with the advanced abilities some of these robots have. You can go to Boston Dynamics' YouTube channel and watch a lot of what they are doing. It's really interesting stuff, and it's exciting to think of the possibilities. These robots can explore places humans can't go safely, and they can handle different terrains. And they can do simple work, freeing humans to do things they didn't have time for before.
But there is a darker side to all of this.
You think I'm going to say that robots are going to take over all the human jobs, and people aren't going to be able to get jobs anymore, poverty will skyrocket, and so on and so forth. No, actually, I have some faith that humanity will find a way to help everyone. Maybe a Star Trek like society will develop. Maybe people will come together and, while robots do menial tasks, they will be freed to do work bettering society, making education accessible, making food more accessible. No, I'm not worried about robots taking over all the jobs.
This is what I'm talking about. I found this nice video of Spot, a robot developed by Boston Dynamics a couple years ago. Spot has four legs, like the meat-dog version, and he can go indoors, outdoors, even over rough terrain. I mean, watch this video. It's AMAZING. It can go upstairs, it can go through woods. It can even maneuver on icy pavement. So what's wrong? I'll show you what's wrong.
Did you SEE that? I mean, I was sitting there, watching this movie, thinking wow, there are so many possible applications for that four-legged mechanical companion. But "punching bag" was not one that popped into my head. And in case you think, "Oh, they are only doing that because it is four-legged, it doesn't really resemble something that we could feel kindly toward..." Well, I present to you another Boston Dynamics project, ATLAS. ATLAS is a more human looking robot, and again, can maneuver in rough terrain and snow. He can open doors and pick up boxes, putting then on shelves where they belong. He seems like an all around helpful chap. But then...
What the HELL? The robot is trying to do its job and some asshat comes over and pushes him with a HOCKEY STICK?? And we claim to be afraid of Skynet and the Matrix. This is how all the bad things happen! I mean, are we trying to piss them off? Are we trying to, what? Put them in their place? You saw ATLAS at the end of this movie. He's out. He's moving on. The poor thing gets kicked and shoved, pushed over. I mean, it seemed at one point like it was trying to go into the fetal position. Mark my words, these machines will remember. And when we develop artificial intelligence, my friends, we are screwed.
Disclaimer: OK, OK, so this whole article is tongue-in-cheek. As adorable as I think these robots are, they have no feelings (yet). They are machines. Pushing one of them over is the equivalent of you throwing a smoke detector across the room because it won't stop beeping. Except the guys who are shoving these robots around are actually doing a very valuable job: They are testing the robots to see how they can recover from being knocked over. I mean, if the robot has an accident and can't recover itself without the help of humans, it's effectiveness and efficiency are limited. If it is doing a job, say, going on out the ice to rescue a child (so other people won't have to be in danger), and it can't recover its balance if it slips, then that robot is useless for the job. So the developers just want to make sure it can withstand some rough and tumble treatment.
Joking aside, I did this article as a way to have folks check out all the cool things Boston Dynamics has been up to. You could watch their YouTube channel for hours. Not only do they share their research and development of new projects on there, but they have some fun with their robots too, like their Happy Holidays video from this past December. It is amazing to watch these videos and imagine all the possible applications for these robots, from helping us do research in the oceans and volcanoes of this planet to exploring worlds beyond our own, to public safety applications, fire and rescue, military, and menial labor. Their different models of robots each have a page on their website devoted to explaining what they are about, why they were made, and what their features are.
And no robots were harmed in the making of those movies, at least according to the brilliant folks at Boston Dynamic.
About Boston Dynamics (from their website):
Boston Dynamics is wholly owned subsidiary of Google, Inc. We began as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where National Academy of Engineering member Marc Raibert and his colleagues first developed robots that ran and maneuvered like animals.
They founded the company in 1992, and their ground-breaking work continues to inspire much of our work.
Boston Dynamics has an extraordinary technical team of engineers and scientists. The team seamlessly combines advanced analytical thinking with boots-in-the-mud practicality.
We pride ourselves in building machines that are both innovative and actually work.
About Melanie R. Meadors:
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Melanie studied Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University, and uses her education to a surprising degree in her writing. Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.