Boston Dynamics has just unveiled its new Atlas robot. Atlas looks to be the company’s most advanced robot yet.
Robotic technologies influence other industries. One of the industries significantly affected by robotics is prosthetics. This industry uses robotics to make artificial limbs more lifelike, more functional, and more comfortable. Likewise, advances in the field of prosthetics often take us closer the transhumanist’s dream of a cyborg utopia.
Marc Raibert, an MIT and Carnegie Mellon University professor, founded Boston Dynamics in 1992.
Boston Dynamics primary focus is on building “advanced robots with remarkable behavior: mobility, agility, dexterity, and speed,” as stated on its homepage.
While Marc Raibert may have founded the company, Google now owns the company. On December 13, 2013, Google purchased Boston Dynamics for an undisclosed amount. Considering that the company held or is currently holding contracts with DARPA, the Pentagon, and Sony, it would be safe to assume Google paid top dollar for the acquisition. The search engine powerhouse almost continuously throws money around at new technologies, from artificial intelligence to wearable computers. Boston Dynamics is only one of several robotics companies that it has purchased within the last several years.
Boston Dynamics has a knack for generating hype by releasing demo videos of its newest robotic wizardry. The hype for the Atlas robot is no different, as seen in the video. Atlas is a bipedal robot with a humanoid structure like its predecessor, PETMAN. Although Atlas is much smaller in stature than its big brother, it is just as sturdy and walks just as human-like.
However, Atlas excels in just about every other category. Atlas seems much more stable and less top-heavy, and its agility is nothing short of amazing. It can navigate uneven terrain with ease, and while it may stumble, it recovers without falling, similar to the way humans do. It also has arms that are more articulated, allowing it pick up objects. It can even hold human tools. It can also recognize objects like doors and boxes and track them even if it is distracted or thrown off by its engineers. It can also stand back up if it is knocked down. Although Atlas still looks more like a robot than a human, some of its advancements are bound to make their way into the prosthetics market.
Prosthetics have a long evolution and technology has always driven that growth. The Amputee Coalition explains that in the early days of artificial limbs, most were wooden. They were heavy, uncomfortable, and didn’t provide much in the way of function. Most were largely cosmetic, and those that were functional, like the peg leg and the claw arm, usually did not appear to be very humanlike at all.
A modern prosthesis is far more advanced than earlier iterations. Most are lightweight synthetics in composition. They are far more comfortable and are much more articulated, providing greater functionality and dexterity. The Atlas robot is bound to be a big influence in this arena for this reason.
Imagine a paraplegic or double amputee being able to not only walk but to walk with little fear of falling due to gyroscopes maintaining his balance for him. Or having a bionic arm that was connected directly to the nervous system, so that in addition to being capable of moving it just like a real limb, it would send tactile impulses to the user’s brain, allowing them to feel pressure, temperature, and even pain. This type of appendage is the future of prosthetics. They will be connected directly to the body, so they will be lighter, more comfortable, and very high functional. These next prosthetics will not be limited to limbs either. Eyes, inner ear implants, and even full spinal implants are already in the early stages of development.
However, as progress is made in these areas, strides are also made in transhumanism. Wikipedia defines transhumanism well:
Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
In other words, using technologies like bionics to overcome not just disabilities like blindness or severed limbs, but unnecessarily replacing those eyes, arms, and legs purposefully with better mechanical ones. Others define it in a more philosophical sense, stating that accepting transhumanism is rejecting God’s plan. They view it as unethical and immoral. Regardless of definition, the consensus among secular and non-secular scholars seems to be that transhumanism is coming, and it is unstoppable.
The Toledo Blade reports, “The Rev. Mark Douglas, a Presbyterian minister, theologian, ethicist, and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., said in a lecture in Sylvania that transhumanism is “inevitable” as long as humanity continues to exist.”
So, if h+ is inevitable, should we get excited over all this Boston Dynamic hype with their new Atlas robot? I suppose it depends on if you would rather stay human or be assimilated.
[Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images]