Everyone Is Worried About the Boston Dynamics Robots, But They Shouldn't Be

These robots are doing exactly what we tell them.

The most recent video from Boston Dynamics showing its humanoid robot Atlas, doing parkour moves over obstacles inside the robotics company’s warehouse, has the internet predictably freaking out again over the impending apocalypse.

Inverse’s Yasmin Tayag and Rollie Williams break down why the video isn’t as frightening as one might think for one big reason: “These robots are just tools for human use,” Tayag says, noting that in the publicity video (below), Atlas is merely doing what it was programmed to do, which doesn’t exactly fit with the idea these robots are close to becoming conscious, or self-aware, or are planning to rise up against humanity. We’re just not there yet, people.

Anybody afraid of robot uprising can take some small comfort in the fact that though robots themselves may be strong, tireless, and impervious to pain, they are still pretty clumsy. As the video above shows, they have trouble detecting obstacles and have only surprisingly recently mastered the art of getting up stairs.

While Boston Dynamics robots are a little scary, they are far from actually creating the sort of existential dread everybody complains of on Twitter.

Marc Raibert, the robot shop’s founder, has a sense of humor about it. He described another of his robot creations — Handle, which resembles a horse on its hind legs, except with wheels for feet — “nightmare inducing” during a conference last year.

They indeed look scary, but aren’t truly frightening. As technological bogeyman go, Facebook is far more dangerous. Of even greater debate is so-called “killer A.I.;” that is, the weapons that engage automatically, based on external factors and without a human pulling the trigger.

As for for Boston Dynamics, next year may be the one it finally goes mainstream, becoming more known for making helper robots than internet videos. It plans to get on pace to producing 1,000 SpotMini robot dogs a year by July 2019. Raibert has said Boston Dynamics is already testing SpotMini with potential clients in four categories: construction, delivery, security, and home assistance.

A video that received far less fanfare last week was one of SpotMini trundling around a construction site (as seen above). Perhaps the Parkour bot video was rolled out in order to drum up interest in Boston Dynamics ahead of the release of one with far more realistic applications.

The apocalypse may very well be caused by robots, but it doesn’t immediately seem like it will be a result of a robot that does parkour.

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