Robo era dawns

Geelong Advertiser - - YOUR SAY - Ross MUELLER Twit­ter: @TheMuellerName Ross Mueller is a free­lance writer and play­wright.

BOS­TON Dy­nam­ics has 23,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, but they fol­low no­body in re­turn.

Their mis­sion is sim­ple; to cre­ate the most ad­vanced forms of ro­bots on the planet. This is an ac­count that you don’t want to hack. If you do there is a good chance that ro­bots will hunt you down and eat your lap­top.

The web­site shows a (mostly male) bunch of boffins and geeks and tech-heads. This is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of engi­neers and ideas; a spin-off of the fa­mous Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

The com­pany is cited as “the lead­ing de­vel­oper of ad­vanced dy­namic ro­bots”. They have been re­leas­ing videos on so­cial me­dia of their cre­ations and every time they do, it goes vi­ral. Hu­mans love ro­bots, but we are also weirded out by them. We know that in our life­time, they will change the way we live on planet Earth.

The Bos­ton Dy­nam­ics ro­bots are all en­gine and ti­ta­nium. Ex­posed wires, no skin.

You can see they are ma­chines. But they mimic move­ment per­fectly. They lope like dogs and horses. They tra­verse snow­bound car parks on all fours. They are re­mote con­trolled but they run at a per­fect speed, never fal­ter­ing in the Bos­ton cold.

They can now also mimic hu- mans. Some can pick up parcels and stack shelves, leap from one step to an­other and back­flip. They can run through the for­est and find their foot­ing on a slip­pery sur­face, they can be pushed over by a guy with an ice hockey stick in his hands and find their feet again with­out as­sis­tance.

This week a new video ap­peared and went vi­ral. This ro­bot has four legs, walks like a dog, and it can work in con­cert with an­other ro­bot. To­gether, they can col­lab­o­rate to open a door. This is the stuff of night­mares. This com­pany is cre­at­ing a su­pe­rior form of mech­a­nised life, com­pletely un­en­cum­bered by a com­mit­tee of ethics or any gov­ern­men­tal over­sight.

This can be a scary propo­si­tion for hu­mans.

Maybe this is why Bos­ton Dy­nam­ics have cho­sen such user friendly names for their as­ton­ish­ing cre­ations?

Their cur­rent sta­ble in­cludes; “Spot”, “Spot Mini”, “BigDog”, “Han­dle” and “At­las”.

“BigDog” is one me­tre high and can carry 45 kilo­grams. He is shaped like a rhino crossed with a pit-bull and a gi­ant in­sect. He runs on “gaso­line” but apart from the fos­sil fuel draw back, he is un­stop­pable.

“Wild­Cat” runs at 32km/h. She has the ca­pac­ity to lean into turns and was de­vel­oped from “Chee­tah”, who was a lab­o­ra­tory prototype. In the lab “Chee­tah” ran at 48km/h. That is faster than Usain Bolt.

Their roll­call of names sounds like a goofy neigh­bour­hood pet party. And then there is “LS3”.

LS3 can carry over 180kg and was “de­signed to go any­where “marines and sol­diers go on foot ... help­ing to carry their loads”.

Sud­denly it’s not so cute and sci­ence geek-chic. Ro­bots who can carry loads make sense. There are many uses for ro­bots to lift packa- ges, stack shelv­ing and con­tinue to work in this fash­ion 24/7, right? They may be tasked with de­liv­er­ing pizza and mak­ing sure the 7-Eleven is open in the mid­dle of the night. But ro­bots de­signed for marines and sol­diers, that can com­mu­ni­cate with each other? Re­mem­ber the fa­mous footage of 2017? The Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal ex­pert giv­ing his thoughts on Korea. The footage went vi­ral be­cause his four-year-old daugh­ter opened the door and danced into the room. The broad­cast was live and hi­lar­ity en­sued, but just imag­ine if that in­ter­rup­tion had come from LS3? Of course this will never hap­pen. Of course this para­noid drama­ti­sa­tion be­longs in Hol­ly­wood, not in re­al­ity. But how far away is sin­gu­lar­ity? When do we get told that we have stepped over the line and en­tered the new era of de­sign that can never be put into re­verse? Tech­nol­ogy is im­pos­si­ble to har­ness. The urge to ex­plore is in our DNA. The atom got split. This knowl­edge was used for an atomic weapon. The only down side in an oth­er­wise suc­cess­ful ex­plo­ration of our phys­i­cal world. But now we know. If we build it, they will come.

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