Boston Robotics set the Internet afire in 2015 when it debuted its new robot dog, Spot, a seeming gears-and-metal quadruped that uncannily mimicked (in a machine-esque manner) the movements of the all too familiar canine that has become one of mankind’s most cherished companions. Just this past week, the company did it again, releasing a video of its newest robot dog, SpotMini, that climbed to the top of the YouTube video chart. And this mechanized version of Man’s best friend can open doors, a capability that has also reignited fears of some kind of robot takeover.
CNBC reported last week that Boston Robotics has been hard at work making their Spot robot dog into a sleeker, more nimble, and more useful robot. The result is the SpotMini, which is much smaller than its predecessor, far more streamlined, less monochromatic (now an eye-catching yellow-and-black), and, at least with one model, has been given a retractable, vise-like pincer-ended appendage. In the new video, both versions of the SpotMini can be seen, one using its gripping arm (disconcertingly attached along the dorsal part of the robot dog’s back, resembling nothing short of a segmented, striking snake) to open a closed door for the other.
The video reportedly had garnered over 2.4 million views on YouTube as of the posting of CNBC‘s article and had risen to the top of that site’s most viewed list. As of this report, it has gathered nearly 8.1 million views since its launch on February 12.
As with many advances in robotics, SpotMini immediately became the center of a growing discussion about technological advances that might one day lead to either the subjugation of the human race by robots or, worse for mankind, the eventual annihilation of said human race by same. (There is also some discussion of the merging of robotic technology, not to mention artificial intelligence, with humans, a discussion that also calls into question the eventual ending of humanity as a predominantly biological entity.)
Twitter played host to a discussion on the robot development, of course, with some comments, like the one posted by nick wright, pointing out the potential for existential threat.
Boston Dynamics is going to be the end of us all, and the last remaining humans will be wondering how we didn't see it coming. https://t.co/hYHNqTC6BZ— nick wright (@getnickwright) February 12, 2018
Others, like The Telegraph, reached for dark humor in their observations.
Anton Roman went straight for the robot apocalypse comparison with the popular Terminator films, commenting on YouTube, “Give it a turret and an objective and it becomes a terminator…. scary.”
And yet, despite the fearful vocalizations of many, polls seem to indicate that most people think that robots will someday take over many jobs that are currently held by humans, not all think that technological advances will necessarily see people enslaved or annihilated by a rise of more self-aware robots.
A 2016 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll found that most of those surveyed, 66 percent, thought that human intelligence was a far greater threat to humanity than Artificial Intelligence.
Another poll, this one conducted by YouGov (per Daily Mail), found that more than 60 percent of the respondents felt that robots in the workplace would lead to fewer jobs open to humans within the next decade. More than a quarter of those surveyed, 27 percent, felt that the number of jobs would decrease “a lot.”
Still, a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that although most believed that nearly all jobs would be taken over by robots in the next 50 years, only a few of those same people believed robots would take over the jobs they performed.
But is a door-opening robot dog the precursor to the machines that some fear will be the end of humanity? At least a few think so (some do so, admittedly, with tongue planted firmly in cheek), but robot dogs are just one type of advancement in robotics. And as useful as they might become, technologies producing more human-like robots, some of which can mimic human actions and perform skilled functions, are in development.
And when those robots start opening doors and calculating their next objectives? Will it be a harmless progression in robotics or will it be another step taken, as some have warned, in humanity’s inevitable fall to robot successors?