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Stop kicking the robots before they start kicking us

Stop kicking the robots before they start kicking us


Two words: unfriendly AI

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Boston Dynamics is a robotics company owned by Google. They make robots and then release videos demonstrating what these robots can do. They are the kind of videos that make you wonder if Boston, or any city, stands a chance.

Earlier this week, Boston Dynamics showed off its newest creation: Spot, an agile, autonomous robot with four hydraulic legs and a sensor head to help it move across rough terrain. The video shows Spot walking through the company's office, moving at a steady pace across the gray gingham carpet, past two office dudes looking at office papers and talking office talk.

Spot is the R2-D2 of office pets

Spot is quieter than its bulkier predecessors. It makes a low-level whirring sound as it pads along. Spot starts to seem like some kind of roaming office equipment / pet — the R2-D2 to a telepresence robot's C-3P0. That is, until a guy in a hoodie pops out and kicks Spot in the guts. The kicker retreats back behind the translucent office divider with a hint of a smile. Spot buckles at the knees and makes a winding down sound, but keeps its balance. Six seconds later, Spot is outside and — blammo! —the same guy kicks Spot, hard, to try to knock it over again. This time Spot skids on the concrete like it's ice, but continues to stay upright.

According to its creators, Spot could eventually help with search and rescue, mapping, or accessing disaster zones. Kicking does not sound like the primary threat to Spot in any of those scenarios. The fact that Boston Dynamics is masterful at its job makes it worse. Spot looks more like an animal than a machine. It feels like watching a dog get kicked. And that is from my human perspective.

It feels like watching a dog get kicked

Have you ever heard of "unfriendly AI"? It's the idea that machines capable of greater-than-human intelligence don't have to be antagonistic towards humanity to want to destroy it. One way to ensure "unfriendly AI"? Releasing a video so the Spot of the future can watch some scrubby scientist kicking its grandmother. Four words: Please stop kicking robots. And wipe that smile off your face while you're sealing our doom.