A year ago, Boston Dynamics released a video showing its humanoid robot “Atlas” doing, well, rather human things–opening doors, walking through a snowy forest, hoisting cardboard boxes, and lifting itself off of the ground. Rarely has something so banal seemed so peculiar.
What is “Atlas” doing these days? As shown in this newly-released video above, it’s jumping to new heights, twisting in the air, and doing backflips with uncanny ease. Standing six feet tall and weighing 180 pounds, Atlas was designed to take care of mundane problems–like assisting emergency services in search and rescue operations and “operating powered equipment in environments where humans could not survive.” But that’s not where the applications of Atlas end. Seeing that the Pentagon has helped finance and design Atlas, you can easily see the humanoid fighting on the battlefield. Stay tuned for that clip in 2018.
Which brings us to our next video. The new short film, “Slaughterbots,” comes from the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and it follows this plot:
A military firm unveils a tiny drone that hunts and kills with ruthless efficiency. But when the technology falls into the wrong hands, no one is safe. Politicians are cut down in broad daylight. The machines descend on a lecture hall and spot activists, who are swiftly dispatched with an explosive to the head.
According to UC Berkeley AI expert Stuart Russell, “Slaughterbots” looks like science fiction. But it’s not. “It shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies that we already have.” It is “simply an integration of existing capabilities… In fact, it is easier to achieve than self-driving cars, which require far higher standards of performance.” Recently shown at the United Nations’ Convention on Conventional Weapons, “Slaughterbots” comes on the heels of an open letter signed by 116 robotics and AI scientists (including Tesla’s Elon Musk), urging the UN to ban the development and use of killer robots. It reads:
Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.
If we already have military drones taking out enemies across the world (in places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan), the mental leap to deploying Slaughterbots doesn’t seem too great. Do you trust our leaders to make finer distinctions and keep a lid on Pandora’s Box? Or could you see them tearing Pandora’s Box open like a gift on Christmas day? Yeah, me too. The robots of your dystopian future are now here.
If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.
If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!