"They dance now!?" "They dance now..."
December 29, 2020 12:21 PM   Subscribe

The Boston Dynamics parade of horrors continues...
posted by Krazor (165 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, hell, let ‘em take over.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 12:27 PM on December 29 [26 favorites]


So we've gone from CGI which looks real to a reality which looks CGI.
posted by fullerine at 12:35 PM on December 29 [50 favorites]


No. Nonononono nope. No.
posted by Silvery Fish at 12:36 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


“Brain the size of a planet...” etc
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 12:38 PM on December 29 [12 favorites]


I take this as a sign that the robot uprising draws ever closer, and after this year I think it's way overdue.
posted by Flexagon at 12:40 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


That is an excellent song to get stuck in my head, I will say!
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 12:41 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


Flexagon, if only. I fear we have decades of robo-stormtrooper-enforced dystopia before that happens.
posted by rikschell at 12:42 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Bring back hockey stick guy.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:43 PM on December 29 [19 favorites]


I, for one, love our new dynamic dancing Bostonian overlords.
posted by otherchaz at 12:43 PM on December 29 [8 favorites]


Yeah, they're super cool, but any fears about the robots taking over are as much science fiction now as they were in 1950. This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower, and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:44 PM on December 29 [10 favorites]


Damned if those creepy robots don't dance better than I do.

They kind of remind me of Maximilian from The Black Hole.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:50 PM on December 29 [8 favorites]


Very much programmed to "dance" by some very white, non-dancing people.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 12:50 PM on December 29 [37 favorites]


This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower,

BD's robots are capable of automatic mapping and pathfinding, including adapting to obstacles. I'm sure the dance was pre-programmed, but many of their use cases are semi-autonomous or autonomous, not just elaborate puppets or automata.

and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.

AI controlled lawn mowers have been around for years and are now used commercially.
posted by jedicus at 12:56 PM on December 29 [17 favorites]


Tour Bus Driver: "Look at the American computer monkey! Dance, monkey! Dance!"
posted by grimjeer at 12:56 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Please don't take away our hopes for a more awesome apocalypse than we already have, GallonOfAlan. It's all we have.
posted by brundlefly at 12:56 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


That was extremely cute! I'm not a huge fan of the humanoid ones (creepy!) but it was fun to watch the little snakedog and the giant turkey on wheels cut a rug.
posted by merriment at 12:59 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


Snark aside, this is pretty impressive. Particularly when compared with Honda's Asimo mincing around like it's shit itself. That was just nine years ago!
posted by Bezbozhnik at 12:59 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


I love that real robots move more like Terminator-era stop motion than T2-era CGI.
posted by migurski at 1:01 PM on December 29 [10 favorites]


@jedicus AI lawn mowers? When I can ask them to define what a lawn is, that'll be AI. Until then they have pathfinding algorithms.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:01 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


I am in love with the giraffe dog. It is smooth. I want one to carry my shopping home and have dance parties with.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:02 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]




I, for one, love our new dynamic dancing Bostonian overlords.

Well, they may be a lover but they ain't no dancer.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:10 PM on December 29 [12 favorites]


I can't wait to see what Auralnauts do with this footage. I. LOVE. BOX.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 1:11 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


I have as of late been getting very intimately acquainted with just how complex a mechanism the knee actually is. There are about four different muscle groups involved just in bending it - and those are all just to bend it on a simple hinge. Being able to rotate the leg and turn the feet so that the toes are pointing to either side instead of straight in front uses other muscles. And for balance? Still other muscles. I have been working on regaining full function in my knee for the past two and a half months now, and I can still only bend my knee 100 degrees (I'm shy of the full 140), and despite daily exercises, I do not have the muscle strength to balance just on the bad leg. It is only recently that I have been able to walk with a cane without feeling very wobbly.

What I have going for me is a human brain with 50 years of experience in having done all of these things before, and the ability to remember having done that. I don't need to think about the mechanics involved - that's just innate. (Arguably, my having to think about things and figure out workarounds for my current state may be as much of a hindrance as the weak muscles.) It is the loss of that ability - albeit temporary - that has reinforced for me just how complicated the mechanics of movement is.

So - the fact that these robots have been programmed to take steps, hold that position with a bent knee and balance there, and even JUMP, is astonishing. The calculations necessary to make sure that you bend over just so far and no farther, so you don't topple over - or to figure out just how much weight to put on one leg so that you can lift up the other foot, and how far to swing that other leg - or how much force you need to be able to jump, and land in a controlled manner - this is astounding.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on December 29 [50 favorites]




I'm glad they didn't perform the Thriller choreography. That would have been way creepier.
posted by ctmf at 1:14 PM on December 29 [16 favorites]


I'm not worried about Skynet, I am terrified like someone from the 3rd century would be by air delivered napalm. They don't need to "define a lawn" just follow their pathfinding algorithm without qualm or mercy.
posted by Pembquist at 1:14 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your robot revolution.
posted by ProtagonistZero at 1:21 PM on December 29 [11 favorites]


So, coming soon will be robot performers doing poorly done dance routines? Can’t wait.

By the way, how long can Mister Robojangles do that dance before the batteries run down and it collapses to the floor? Seriously... are marathon dancers a threatened species? Or is it good for maybe one dance and then needs to sit for hours near a wall socket?
posted by njohnson23 at 1:23 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


beats passing the butter
posted by lalochezia at 1:23 PM on December 29 [9 favorites]


This is the dance they will do... after they wipe us out.
posted by KaizenSoze at 1:25 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


Great, Looking forward to seeing these covered in blue lives matter Punisher logos hitting the dab over the body of a protester

Can't say they're wrong.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:26 PM on December 29 [8 favorites]


Boston Dynamics' four-legged robotic dog, Spot, has been sent into the area around Chernobyl's nuclear reactor number four...
Did it…bother to go anywhere it didn’t have an entire team of people following just a few yards behind it?
posted by bixfrankonis at 1:28 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower, and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.

this makes them more intelligent that most people i know

ai? hook em up to an egg timer and we're all dead
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:29 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


They make it look easy on a level floor, but could they keep their footing on a mound of human bones?
posted by misteraitch at 1:33 PM on December 29 [63 favorites]


In a sane world this would be a cause for celebration, one more powerful tool to free humanity from drudgery.
posted by mhoye at 1:35 PM on December 29 [15 favorites]




They'll be on tour for the battle of Taiwan in 2027!
posted by MillMan at 2:01 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


If they can't do their own choreography, they aren't as smart as cockatoos.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 2:02 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


I really appreciate their programmers' ability to have them do the Mashed Potato and The Twist. I'm not sure I could isolate and time the various required movements, even with my own human body.
posted by theatro at 2:04 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


At first I wondered whether the camera was robot controlled/moved too, but based on the reflection I think it's just a person with a steadicam. Good movement, though.
posted by penduluum at 2:05 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Very much programmed to "dance" by some very white, non-dancing people.

The marvel is not that the robot dances well, but that the robot dances at all.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:11 PM on December 29 [15 favorites]


history is full of beings who learn the combat arts while disguising it as dancing, or play.
posted by th3ph17 at 2:14 PM on December 29 [21 favorites]


Yeah, they're super cool, but any fears about the robots taking over are as much science fiction now as they were in 1950. This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower, and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.

I mean, you say that, and I largely agree, and yet...I happen to live 20 miles away from the Boston Dynamics headquarters, and when I see videos of their robots marching through the woods, you might just hear nervous laughter emanating from my household as I check Google Maps.
posted by jeremias at 2:19 PM on December 29 [10 favorites]


I bet a can of fast drying metallic spray paint would wreak havoc on their sensors and cameras.
posted by Zedcaster at 2:21 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


I AM DELIGHTED
posted by Grandysaur at 2:22 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


Also I’m curious as to why the dog (and other BD four legged robots) have legs that aren’t like their counterparts in the animal kingdom. Is there and ELI5 easy answer beyond “stability?”
posted by Grandysaur at 2:25 PM on December 29


I am pretty sure someone asked that question on AskMe a while ago, but darned if I can find it now.

One possibility is that it's advantageous when designing a robot to make the "fore" and "hind" legs identical, because that's half as many unique parts you need to design. There's no equivalent evolutionary pressure on real dogs to have interchangeable parts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:32 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


I remain amazed at the advances BD is making and if you had told me in the 90's when I graduated engineering school that we'd have self-contained bipedal robots doing The Carleton in 2020 I would have studied harder, gotten into grad school and followed a completely different professional path. This is amazing.

Also, Spot isn't a dog, it's a Pierson's Puppeteer (almost).
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on December 29 [13 favorites]


Dear Boston Dynamics,
I would like to pre-order the ballerina giraffe-dog please, as well as the optional shopping cart attachment so it can get things off of high shelves. I will also be using it as my emotional support bot so please include large "Therapy Bot, Please Do Not Touch" decals. Are you still offering the warning growl settings or is that just standard issue these days?
Special instructions: Please program to gently lower it's "chin" onto my shoulder when it senses I am sad or stressed.
Sincerely yours,
Boscosmom
P.S. Does it come in any other colors?
posted by BoscosMom at 2:41 PM on December 29 [23 favorites]


Now imagine you're tied up in a creepy, dirty basement in a Tarantino grindhouse flck and the robots have knives.

Also I would like to take a moment to point the very new and very cyberpunk-industrial safety barriers surrounding all of the robots now that they're operating without tethers at all, especially Atlas.

I think we can safely presume there have been accidents where a robot has bad code or data and just goes plowing into people, workstations and/or other things with hilarious, terrifying and costly results.

I want to see this blooper reel.

"Wait, where's Phil!? What's with all the broken glass?"

"Oh, he was trying to run that new code and he was tackled all the way into the conference room. They say he'll be out of the hospital next week."
posted by loquacious at 2:41 PM on December 29 [9 favorites]


Is there and ELI5 easy answer beyond “stability?”

The thing about evolution is that not only does what you have have to work right now, but it has to work at all stages between now and what came before.

There are plenty of items that are sort of "islands of usefulness" that no animal has ever achieved because there are no functionally useful ways to get there from here.

BTW, this isn't some "irreducible complexity" argument, in case someone might misunderstand it. It's a point that, by its very name, features and functions must evolve. They do not leap.
posted by tclark at 2:50 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


Joking aside, the BD robots are not really the ones you need to worry about—they're unlikely to kill you. The robots that are likely to kill you look like toys and might only have the intelligence of a dumb microwave.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:51 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


All haw-hawing aside, the fact that this technology is advancing so quickly in the hands of people we have actual data on not having any sort of ethics or caring about the actual impact of their technology, and being oblivious to the racist, sexist, etc., biases embedded in them, plus the fact that it will certainly be co-opted by various crypto-Fascist and just plain Fascist organisms including world-power nation states and equivalent-sized corporations, means we're fucked.
posted by signal at 2:55 PM on December 29 [12 favorites]


Yeah I'm not really scared of the robots in and of themselves. I'm scared of the people who will, one way or another, be in control of the robots.
posted by glonous keming at 3:02 PM on December 29 [13 favorites]


If you're worried about being killed by a robot, these things are way, WAY too expensive to be worried about.

Be worried about a drone with a machine gun.One of those could be fully automated for a fraction of the price of a dancing robot designed to unload boxes from a pallet.
posted by GuyZero at 3:17 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


All haw-hawing aside, the fact that this technology is advancing so quickly in the hands of people we have actual data on not having any sort of ethics or caring about the actual impact of their technology, and being oblivious to the racist, sexist, etc., biases embedded in them, plus the fact that it will certainly be co-opted by various crypto-Fascist and just plain Fascist organisms including world-power nation states and equivalent-sized corporations, means we're fucked.


I agree, Facebook does need more regulation.
posted by darkstar at 3:18 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower

Isn't that exactly what the evil robots would want us to think, right before their uprising?
posted by mikelieman at 3:20 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


I bet a can of fast drying metallic spray paint would wreak havoc on their sensors and cameras.

One of my plans for the spring is to make a Mylar cape part of my regular bike commute gear and see what that does to traffic. Should be good fun.
posted by mhoye at 3:23 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


They don’t need full AI. just mobility, nimbleness, map software, some of the stuff self driving cars have, a weapon, facial recognition software , and a picture of you. Right ? These are hard problems but not Turing test hard.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:23 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


There is something about the lumbering gait of the tall robot which reminds me of Michael Madsen in that reservoir dogs scene.
posted by Lanark at 3:23 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


This made me laugh out loud at least twice with joy, but still nope. Just swap out the music with this. Terrifying.
posted by Mchelly at 3:24 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


just mobility, nimbleness, map software, some of the stuff self driving cars have, a weapon, facial recognition software , and a picture of you. Right ?

They need an infrared camera, a lot of ammunition and a willingness to violate international law. This is not a hard problem to solve from a technology perspective. The lack of robot killings to this point is purely because of the existing regulatory framework.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


I was wondering what the new jobs would be that would take the place of taxi driving and manufacturing. Robot choreographer, obviously.
posted by amtho at 3:42 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Spot, the yellow 4-legged robot, is available for purchase online, for the low, low price of $74,500 (no arm). Adam Savage has one and uses it to pull his rickshaw. No word on purchase price for the other two-legged and wheeled variety though.
posted by fragmede at 3:50 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


The thought that went through my mind when I saw Adam Savage wearing a top hat and riding a self-built rickshaw being towed by Spot is: "Good God that is steampunk as fuck."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 PM on December 29 [11 favorites]


Is anyone else getting "bird-drinking-water" toy vibes from that third robot?


Jokes aside, seriously impressive engineering, and I look forward to piloting one of these across the apocalyptic wastes from the safety of my moon base brain jar.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 4:12 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


njohnson23: "are marathon dancers a threatened species? "

They shoot robots, don't they?
posted by chavenet at 4:15 PM on December 29 [8 favorites]


Do they have extra head actuators so when they wear skinned human faces they can grin yet?
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:19 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


I bet a can of fast drying metallic spray paint would wreak havoc on their sensors and cameras.


*Discreetly adds a can of Krylon Fusion Silver to his post-apocalyptic prepper list*
posted by darkstar at 4:20 PM on December 29 [6 favorites]


I'd actually watch a Dancing with the Stars series that featured pairs of industrial robots.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:25 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


This is incredibly cool and impressive, just like the fact that "we" were able to retrieve physical samples from a comet and bring it back to earth. I wish this stuff could be front page news. I liked the behind scenes video from Marques. If I'm around when a version of this becomes affordable as a "pet," I will definitely get one.

But, yeah, drones are already being used to kill people, so will this in some form. Humans gonna human.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 4:31 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Hyundai recently bought 80% of the company for 1.1 billion bucks. I’d say they made a great investment.
posted by dbiedny at 4:38 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]




The one that looks like an emu riding a perambulator is called "Handle", apparently; and the thing like a shower head terminating its "arm" seems to be a suction device that can lift smallish boxes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:50 PM on December 29


I think we can safely presume there have been accidents
Heh, sure. Anyone who's developed code of any complexity for industrial arms has a story of one smashing through something, or unexpectedly translating across the room at 10ms-1.

The lack of robot killings to this point is purely because of the existing regulatory framework.
What lack?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 4:55 PM on December 29


Very much programmed to "dance" by some very white, non-dancing people

So even robots aren't exempt from dance-shaming?

I thought it was both impressive and adorable, and I was really glad we got through the whole thing without some smirky programmer dude kicking one of the poor things again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:09 PM on December 29 [12 favorites]


Rapidly expanding foam construction adhesive. Kills robots. Dead.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:15 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


... and a willingness to violate international law.

Why "international", citizen?
posted by mhoye at 5:16 PM on December 29


What no one seems to realize is that Boston Dynamics is actually a social media company which uses a robotics laboratory as a loss leader for ad revenue from viral videos.
posted by Room 101 at 5:26 PM on December 29 [9 favorites]


We've been living with inhuman machines that will happily kill at their masters' whims for generations now. They're called "corporations" and most of us willingly choose to tell them where we are and what we're doing all the time now.

I maintain that the kind of reaction that people always have here to Boston Dynamics robots is largely an uncanny valley effect, rather than any rational threat assessment. Goofy humanoid robots are a terrible way to build a machine for killing. Or put another way, when the robot uprising happens, it won't be a Boston Dynamics dog-bot that kills you, it'll be the smart thermostat you installed yourself.

I thought the dancing was cute and a really impressive tech demonstration. BD seems like they've basically solved the equivalent of the spinal cord and cerebellum for biped and quadruped robots. I enjoyed the video and it made me feel happy.
posted by biogeo at 5:27 PM on December 29 [9 favorites]


This has to be stopped now.
posted by AJScease at 5:28 PM on December 29


What lack?

To the best of my knowledge US drone strikes have a human in the decision loop and are not autonomous killings.
posted by GuyZero at 5:37 PM on December 29


needs more soft shoe.
posted by clavdivs at 5:37 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]




What no one seems to realize is that Boston Dynamics is actually a social media company which uses a robotics laboratory as a loss leader for ad revenue from viral videos.
Does that differ from funding a robotics laboratory with ad revenue from viral videos?

(I am not trying to be snarky and am not sure of your original level of snark.)
posted by inexorably_forward at 6:06 PM on December 29


For the first time in my 50 years on earth I have seen what the mashed potato dance is. Because robots on YouTube. How very 2020.
posted by TheAliceMunroSingers at 6:16 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


After learning at an exponential rate, version two-point-oh demonstrates the floss.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 6:22 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure they're a car company now.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:24 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


I would love to have a Spot companion to haul photo gear into the woods. Not C$100K love but still.

However drones and lithium batteries have totally changed, and not in a good way IME, the front country adjacent back country. If these things ever get down to ATV money a lot of the back country is never going to be the same.
posted by Mitheral at 6:27 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


*Discreetly adds a can of Krylon Fusion Silver to his post-apocalyptic prepper list*

WITNESS ME
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 6:36 PM on December 29 [16 favorites]


I am in love with the giraffe dog.

I thought that initially, but then when it started singing along, it was more like a snake dog and it made me nervous. Otherwise, fun!
posted by pangolin party at 6:39 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


More Adam Savage BD Spot testing: Spot in baby shoes and wearing a mask.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:46 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


A lot of the videos show the robots tethered to what looks like a power connection, and this video seems to have an unnecessary break in it. How long can they actually operate from battery? Is it more than a couple of minutes?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:58 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


I think I agree with the argument that a lot of the anxiety here comes from sublimated anxiety over the military-industrial complex, structural inequality and late capitalism. (Admittedly, that's what robots have always meant: 'robot' is Czech for 'slave' for a reason.)

Like I'm pretty sure the motivation for this video was a) they've made some big advances to robot movement over the past year, b) it's the end of the year and c) they would like people to stop being upset at their robot videos and figured that no-one could get upset at them dancing
posted by Merus at 7:12 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]




Needs more fucking Kevin.
posted by bendy at 7:31 PM on December 29


This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower,

BD's robots are capable of automatic mapping and pathfinding, including adapting to obstacles. I'm sure the dance was pre-programmed, but many of their use cases are semi-autonomous or autonomous, not just elaborate puppets or automata.


Intelligence is modeling. The more intelligent an entity is, the more generalized its ability to solve problems with mental models created in situ.

ie Given a landscape that looks like a canyon with a river at the bottom and a nearby log bridge across vs a solid rock bridge a mile away, how do you navigate to the other side? Same question, but you're carrying a backpack with half your bodyweight. Same question, but the log is mossy and wet and the canyon walls have some convenient switchbacks leading down to the river.

And this basic problem-solving of terrain navigation with multiple paths and variable load/surface friction is something surprisingly simple creatures routinely perform. More complex problems: given how [prey entity] is likely to navigate a given terrain as above, what approach will cut off their best escape routes so I can eat them? This model has one agent [prey] trying to avoid another agent [predator] while solving navigation challenges, and we [predator] are simultaneously forward-simulating [prey]'s solution AND attempting to block their solution in ways that result in [predator] coming into contact with [prey], and then executing the most promising simulation run back in the real world. Throw in the massive complexity of additional [predator] agents for social pack hunters.

Nobody and nothing expends this effort repeatedly: after multiple successes the model is almost certainly archived and useless branches pruned until we're back in the comfortable, low-energy-cost realm of rote pattern matching. From then on we won't even give it a second thought, we'll just feed observed environment into the pruned neural network and run with it until something unexpected comes up. But in order to get to that point a model was necessary, even if we never thought of it in those terms. Even if it didn't subjectively feel like we were modeling anything (our subjective experience of making decisions doesn't feel like sodium ions stacking up until action potential occurs in one neuron and not the other, either).

Where things get insanely complicated is communication and group behavior. The agent that represents me says A, which makes the agent representing Sally assume facts B or C (requires tracking her mental state and assumed knowledge) and reply with D, which will leave the agent representing Dave feeling emotions E and F, and he'll probably do G or H in response. This requires not just simulating internal states/likely results in other agents but recursively simulating agents who are themselves simulating agents. The intricacy of even the most basic heist film is brain-breakingly complex to consider as a formal systems model.

But many social animals are capable of doing just this: dogs will frame your other pets for stealing bacon. Chimpanzees routinely employ deception in their shockingly brutal politics. Corvids and chimps will use basic tools in ways that require extremely open-ended kinematics modeling. Cephalopods with their independently-evolved, quasi-distributed central nervous systems...

Intelligence is not having more successful models or more all-encompassing models or even just more models period, it is the ability to recognize when existing models are insufficient, to identify what in the environment is causing the model to fail and incorporating that property or entity into a revised model, to create a new model along entirely arbitrary lines and handle not only agents but agent-recursion and forward-simulation thereof within said model. It is solving for the general case along arbitrary lines within arbitrary constraints, in any problem domain that can exist.

We're currently experiencing a revolution in how intricate and correspondingly useful our artificial neural networks can be for specific problems in specific domains. In how quickly we can develop new expert systems that solve well-studied problem categories. We haven't even begun working on the general case, we don't have the conceptual framework or half the language we'll need to intelligently discuss tackling this. There are so many decades of work remaining on the semantic side alone that the likely worst case scenario isn't Skynet, it's giving up on artificial approaches altogether and brute-force mapping the neurotopology of a profoundly toxic human (Elon?); empowering them to do some real damage along classic amoral shareholder corporation lines. Which at the end of the day is really just current military drones with extra steps. The problem is us, has been us, and for the foreseeable future will remain us.

We don't get to shrug off our guilt for putting ourselves in our current situation with a conveniently-timed apocalypse. The robots will take an increasing share of the physical and intellectual labor off our hands, but the emotional labor of coming to terms with ourselves as a species...not their circus, not their monkeys.
posted by Ryvar at 7:37 PM on December 29 [25 favorites]


>Adam Savage has one and uses it to pull his rickshaw .

Based on the linked video, "pull his rickshaw" is being extremely generous. Needed two BD engineers to get him up a slight incline and I won't even try to describe the descent.
posted by McNulty at 7:41 PM on December 29


In a sane world this would be a cause for celebration, one more powerful tool to free humanity from drudgery.

Unless technology really can be relied upon to create endless new forms of drudgery, we're well overdue for replacing the sale of labour as the moral centrepiece of economics.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


is it good for maybe one dance and then needs to sit for hours near a wall socket?

That sounds like seventh-grade me at school dances, so I would've appreciated the robot companionship.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:52 PM on December 29 [19 favorites]


Yeah, they're super cool, but any fears about the robots taking over are as much science fiction now as they were in 1950. This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower, and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.

They don't need AI to be tools of the fascist state. They just need to be remote controlled.
posted by Beholder at 8:56 PM on December 29 [5 favorites]


I'm obsolete!

:(
posted by mazola at 8:57 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


Be worried about a drone with a machine gun.

The most horrifying thing about that video is that they filmed and scored it like a Michael Bay movie. The people who design, order, and pay for these weapons do so because they think they're cool. Not because these weapons are necessary, not because the world is improved by having them, but because it's fun to play with high-tech toys that blow shit up. Same reason police forces love military cosplay. They're all little boys pretending they're in an action movie.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:41 PM on December 29 [7 favorites]


Yeah, that drone with a machine gun is less than two steps away from a nightmare scenario. Most houses aren’t hardened against automatic gunfire.

As mentioned upthread, give the thing an IR sensor and simple human recognition capability (my security cameras already have both of these) and the most rudimentary area coverage algorithm from a Roomba and this drone could eliminate a whole neighborhood of people with grim efficiency.
posted by darkstar at 10:04 PM on December 29


As mentioned upthread, give the thing an IR sensor and simple human recognition capability (my security cameras already have both of these) and the most rudimentary area coverage algorithm from a Roomba and this drone could eliminate a whole neighborhood of people with grim efficiency.

It won't happen. Computer vision has a notorious blind spot which would ruin the market.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:23 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


'robot' is Czech for 'slave' for a reason.

Well, in the historical/etymology/literature sense, but it also means just plain work or job in many slavic languages. The word slave comes from, well, anyway, now I'm getting off track but I'll just say this is where the real problem starts: human controllers.
posted by romanb at 10:23 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


the robotistic's.
posted by clavdivs at 10:39 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


There are people alive today who can tell you about the first time they saw a Model T. I feel like I'll be telling my grandchildren about the first time I saw a Model T-1000.
posted by adept256 at 10:45 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Agree with others here that drones are just as scary as full AI robot killers. A safe and remote operator that cannot be reasoned with and cannot be threatened, loiter time and patience that is limited only by power supply... How would you like one of these guys squatting in your village square, hooked up to his solar panel, run from a portable at some AFB in the States, ready to enforce compliance and stop resistance 24/7/365?

You thought war sucked now? Then things got worse...
posted by Meatbomb at 11:16 PM on December 29


As mentioned upthread, give the thing an IR sensor and simple human recognition capability (my security cameras already have both of these) and the most rudimentary area coverage algorithm from a Roomba and this drone could eliminate a whole neighborhood of people with grim efficiency.

Or for 1/1000th the price, go down to the local gun shop and buy a Kimber 1911 and just start shooting people.

All the Skynet wet dreams that show up on MeFi and elsewhere are always just the most expensive and least efficient way of killing people.
posted by sideshow at 11:23 PM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Adam Savage BD Spot testing: Spot in baby shoes

I wanted soooo badly for it to go like this
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:27 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


All the Skynet wet dreams that show up on MeFi and elsewhere are always just the most expensive and least efficient way of killing people.

Aircraft carriers are pretty expensive too, and yet here we are. The trick is killing people very far away, at scale, at your convenience, and with very short notice.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:27 PM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Regardless of the rest of the arguments, “these brand new cutting edge prototypes are prohibitively expensive” absolutely does not mean “these things will literally always be prohibitively expensive.”
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:29 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


The trick is killing people very far away, at scale, at your convenience, and with very short notice.

The “trick” is convincing people there is some sort of difference how far removed the human is from the bullet being put into another person’s brain. Trust me, the receipt of the bullet isn’t wringing their hands about drone warfare.
posted by sideshow at 11:38 PM on December 29


A safe and remote operator that cannot be reasoned with and cannot be threatened

mmm... tough choice. Soldiers (especially so-called "special forces") are not known to be especially reasonable, plus they occasionally get bored and psychopathic. I might choose the drone and figure out a way to sabotage it.
posted by ctmf at 12:09 AM on December 30 [1 favorite]


1. If you're going to fight, it's better to do it in the enemy's backyard than your own.
2. Remote capability is better than sending people there.
3. You want it pre-positioned, not have to figure it out when needed on short notice.
4. (problem) - if it exists, people will make up a justification to use it.
posted by ctmf at 12:16 AM on December 30 [1 favorite]


There are differences, both for those that might use drone warfare and for those who might be on the receiving end of it.

Being able to kill without having to have people on the ground involved makes it much easier to maintain a state of warfare politically for the lessened endangerment of one's own forces. Drone warfare doesn't require the same level of infiltration into "enemy" territory or use of mass forces to accomplish its ends, which can make it easier to use in some instances, which will only grow as the tech evolves. It doesn't require even having a mass of force to employ, making drone use a much more attractive weapon system in asymmetrical warfare, especially should the tech become more deadly and/or stealthy and widespread than it is already.

Not being able to engage with the enemy that employs drones makes the targets more vulnerable for not being as able to repel attackers or extract a cost that might make an attack seem too risky. In the same way, the ability to go after "high value" targets is enhanced, that threatens the hierarchal structure of group targets, which has to weigh on the minds of those who may be targeted. Some of these things could potentially be argued as providing some kind of "benefit" depending on how necessary one views warfare and assassination, I'm not someone who will defend those things and would note it will likely be as easy to employ against "us", whoever that "us" might be as an "enemy" and have similar benefits to them, but either way drone warfare does alter the possibilities for killing in changing the cost/benefit analysis and the likelihood of success.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:21 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]




The amount of fine tuning this may have required is insane. Those motions barely look mechanical
posted by styx at 3:59 AM on December 30 [1 favorite]


Did ... that 4 legged robot... twerk with the thing that looks like a cleaning robot?
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:59 AM on December 30 [2 favorites]


The movements are way fucking eerie and I want to think, "Wow, cool!" but... it's just too...

Last summer I saw this art piece by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu- an 'industrial' robot tasked with keeping a pool of red fluid from getting too far away from it's base.

It was just performing a series of programmed movements, there's no volition there, but the robot's movements pass a sort of movement-level Turing test: the robot is not 'thinking' like a conscious being, but it was moving like one and that was deeply unsettling.

And though I might not worry about one of these knocking on my door anytime too soon, I do keep a weather eye out for reports that someone has decided to use drones against an assembly of some group they find objectionable on racial/political/moral grounds. (Similar to the ATV comment above - GPS has changed landscape in ways its inventors likely did not entirely force.)

The technology is running away from our ability to keep track of it - like plastics/ oil industry at the beginning /middle of the last century. Seems really cool and no problem - but now micro-plastics (and the chemicals they give off) have been found in human placenta.

...in short - if we just leave all the tools around for Skynet - well to a Skynet every IOT device is a hammer... and, uh no,... wait there's a good analogy here... what I'm saying is, you might think it's cool that they can dance but to someone else that dextrous movement means they hunt better through thick jungle, and etc. Wait! "To every Skynet MacGyver a IOT device is a hammer..." no, sorry that's not quite it either...
posted by From Bklyn at 4:48 AM on December 30 [2 favorites]


Metropolis (1927) dance scene [NSFW]: nearly 100 years later, dancing robots still have a long way to go back to the future, baby. From Open Culture, Colin Marshall, 7/30/2020.
posted by cenoxo at 4:51 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]


Each year the Boston Dynamics videos impress me less. This one I thought was downright ugly. Ugly golems doing an ugly bit. I don't mean to disparage the technical achievement. I just find there's a kind of despair to the ersatz expressions of flair and grace. It's like watching a player piano ram through a repertoire as a demonstration of virtuosity.
posted by dmh at 5:29 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]




On watching the video a second time, I'm impressed by the camera work. I wonder if they have it mounted on yet another robot (one of the earlier ones, maybe?) or if there's someone actually in the, uh, arena with the robots. That's pretty ballsy if so; having one of those things trip and fall on you would really be a day-ruiner. Although I guess after as many tries as it must have taken to get them to "dance" naturalistically, maybe they were comfortable putting an intern in there with them or something.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:04 AM on December 30


As uncanny-valley as this is, I can easily imagine Disney[Land|World] putting cartoon character skins on bots like these, and sticking them on stage.
posted by fings at 8:31 AM on December 30 [1 favorite]


I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with industrial-grade spray adhesive foams. And maybe silly string.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:41 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]


> I can easily imagine Disney[Land|World] putting cartoon character skins on bots

Disney's working on it.
posted by Monochrome at 9:14 AM on December 30 [1 favorite]


Bring back hockey stick guy.

The hockey stick shows up a couple of times in the background (I saw it in two different shots, next to the windows in the latter part of the video), ready just in case.
posted by soy bean at 9:38 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]


One of these may run into a burning building to save your life. So be nice to it.

It may also mistake your eyeball for a doorknob...
posted by romanb at 9:52 AM on December 30 [2 favorites]


I don't get the hate here for these robots. Boston Dynamic's #1 application so far seems to be moving boxes on and off pallets which is pretty mundane stuff that I would assume everyone is happy to automate.
posted by GuyZero at 10:02 AM on December 30 [3 favorites]


Interesting to see this video in light of this investigation into Boston Dynamics' sale to Hyundai (its third sale in a decade, having previously been owned by Google and SoftBank). Apparently, BD is bleeding money (over $100 million) and the best use case for its robots today is being fulfilled by drones far more cheaply. That may change with the new ownership, but the line from these videos to a viable business model is far from straightforward.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:16 AM on December 30 [2 favorites]


Robots Swearing
posted by jgaiser at 12:20 PM on December 30


>I don't get the hate here for these robots.

I have a few ideas on that:

1. Plenty of developing tech is evaluated for use in killing people. These are funded by the military, bringing that possibility to the forefront.

2. Uncanny valley - these robots are in the creepy part of the uncanny valley. That makes it easier to imagine them used in a sinister way, regardless of practical concerns.

3. Robots are expensive. That means they'll be used by the elite to benefit the elite, not the average joe.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 1:07 PM on December 30 [4 favorites]


4. They're already being used to replace entry level jobs and suppressing wages, while the elite just keep getting richer off of automation like this and the common human isn't really going to see any direct benefit from these labor cost savings.

Not that we shouldn't be striving for a post scarcity economy and this is just another symptom of late stage capitalism but I don't really see an endgame plan in place in our current culture that isn't more of the same and race to the bottom.
posted by loquacious at 1:32 PM on December 30 [3 favorites]


I don't get the hate here for these robots.
Since when have advances like this ended up helping minimum-wage workers live better? If they 'just' move boxes on & off pallets, that's still putting an economic gun to people's heads just as surely as an actual gun.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:34 PM on December 30 [4 favorites]


I'll put "Butlerian Jihad" on my list for 2021 then.
posted by GuyZero at 1:48 PM on December 30 [6 favorites]


And for fuck's sake, enough already with the cutesy bullshit trying to get people to like the frickin' things. If the things are going to do a job that people can't do easily or safely themselves, like probe dangerous locations or manipulate objects in difficult locations and the like, great! Show that and I'll appreciate them, but constantly trying to draw out emotional responses associated with people or even animals for a robot is getting really, really annoying and is morally questionable at best.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:49 PM on December 30 [5 favorites]


People do understand that Boston Dynamics puts these videos out because they've got nothing else to do right? They're just a money burning research operation. It's not like they have customers.

Here's a quote from an interview with their CEO from the way back days of September 2020:
To help Boston Dynamics become a commercial company, Playter has been hiring executives with experience in sales, business development, marketing, HR, and finance.

They didn't have sales executives!

Let me reassure everyone that no one has lost a job to a Boston Dynamics robot considering they HAD NO SALES PEOPLE.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on December 30 [2 favorites]


Hyundai, um, does have a sales team. And 80% of Boston Robotics.
posted by runehog at 2:05 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]


Let me reassure everyone that no one has lost a job to a Boston Dynamics robot considering they HAD NO SALES PEOPLE.

And? What of it? We know where this is going, who's funding it, to what ends this technology is going to go. Just because it hasn't been productized yet doesn't mean we should withhold judgment on the off chance.
Trust me, I would *love* to unambiguously enjoy the marvel that is how far & how quickly this technology has come. In a better world, this could be the harbinger of neat and useful things.

But a former defense contractor getting a sack of money doesn't tend to lead to peaceful things & peaceful goals, you know? (And them going private doesn't mean "we're only going to use it for good" historically as much as "let's open this up to the highest bidder")

Advances in ICBM technology were also talked about as having peacetime uses through the short-lived demonstration of ballistic mail delivery; but asking the audience to keep less optimistic uses out of mind for fear of invoking "Butlerian Jihad" seems a bit churlish.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:18 PM on December 30 [4 favorites]


Tshbo! > ...World War IV will be fought with industrial-grade spray adhesive foams.

Mr. Incredible vs. Syndrome’s sticky ball guns. Perhaps Syndrome originally developed these as a countermeasure to stop his own (runaway) omnidroids.
posted by cenoxo at 2:19 PM on December 30 [2 favorites]




Ultimate prank gift for someone at Boston Dynamics would be to give them a T-shirt with a QR code on it that identifies you as a twist then push.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:45 PM on December 30 [4 favorites]


constantly trying to draw out emotional responses associated with people or even animals for a robot is getting really, really annoying and is morally questionable at best.

Indeed. What's with the desperate demonstration these machines are just as lovely as you and me?
posted by dmh at 6:26 PM on December 30


My first though when I saw this was I wonder if the movements were programmed through some kind of motion capture off a real person.

Then, I wonder what would happen if you whacked one with a baseball bat in the middle of the dance. Would it fall over?
posted by gottabefunky at 6:28 PM on December 30


SpaceX has been using Spots to inspect their exploded rockets, though given that they gave one to asavage, maybe they just let El*n have one.

> Would it fall over?
Depends how hard you hit it. The dance behaviours are built on a stack of behaviours with balancing at the bottom, so it would at least try to keep its balance.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:08 PM on December 30


What's with the desperate demonstration these machines are just as lovely as you and me?

Marketing?
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:25 PM on December 30


They didn't have sales executives!

They sold to Hyundai and others perfectly well, it seems. They could have brought in sales execs early, but they wouldn't have any robots to sell nor would they ever get to that stage.
posted by romanb at 11:52 PM on December 30 [1 favorite]


I had a good friend named Jim Federico from Westerly RI who became a state senator for south county in RI. He did a lot for that part of RI. He died young at 51. This was one of his favorite songs. How many people could name the group without looking it up?
posted by DJZouke at 5:41 AM on December 31


> Yeah, they're super cool, but any fears about the robots taking over are as much science fiction now as they were in 1950. This is all these robots do. Extremely clever engineering, but they're as *intelligent* as a lawnmower, and no we won't have an AI controlling them any time soon either.

Before you continue, do you mind taking a look at these photographs and clicking on the bits that contain street signs?
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:45 AM on December 31 [4 favorites]


Look, I’ve been a fan of robots since, oh, 1977, but cynical old-me has to be grimly realistic about it: As cute as these are when choreographed and made into viral videos, the first time you see one, or something like it, in actual service, it will have weapons mounted and be dispassionately assaulting peaceful protestors on behalf of somebody cowering in a gilded safe room with more money than he can ever use.

I mean, maybe they’ll be slaving away 24x7 in Amazon distribution centers too, but you won’t see them, and why do you think the hypothetical protestors are hypothetically protesting if not at being classified as inefficiencies to be optimized right out of the economy altogether?

I’m not worried about the machines themselves having intelligence. The kind of person who’d make use of them, either directly or through capture of the (literal) machinery of the state, already considers intelligence a liability of genuine humans. The fact that we aren’t mindless machines has been a problem for the capitalist class for as long as there’s been a capitalist class. At some point we’ve got to face up to the fact that there is no path towards our favorite fantasy futures from where we are now given the economic principles we are currently pressed to regard as moral absolutes.
posted by gelfin at 8:02 AM on December 31 [9 favorites]


FAA issues safety rules that could smooth the way for Amazon drone deliveries, GeekWire, Alan Boyle, 12/28/2020:
After months of feedback and fine-tuning, the Federal Aviation Administration today issued its final versions of safety rules for drones that fly over people and at night — including the drones that Amazon is developing to make package deliveries.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
...
One set of rules [pdf, 470 pp] lays out a system for remote identification of drones, which the FAA considers a key part of its plan to hold manufacturers and operators accountable if things go wrong. Once the rules take effect, if a drone isn’t using the Remote ID system, it can fly only within a limited set of FAA-recognized areas.
...
A separate set of rules [pdf, 292 pp] will govern operations that involve drones flying over people, or flying at night. Like the draft rules, the final versions are aimed at minimizing the risk to uninvolved members of the public, including open-air assemblies. Generally speaking, drones that fly over people shouldn’t contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate the skin, and should conform to limits on the amount of force they could hit someone with....
More details in the article: see also How Amazon Drone Delivery Will Work.

Watch the skies! They will be watching you.
posted by cenoxo at 11:24 AM on December 31


and should conform to limits on the amount of force they could hit someone with....

I'll have to read that when I get a moment. It sounds silly put like that. I'm imagining some alititude-weight-velocity limit curve so that the drone's potential energy plus kinetic energy would be non-fatal? And then I'm mentally estimating the "ok" space being unusable for any practical purpose. Your 2 kg amazon package clearing the top of a 2 story building is already getting out of bounds with no forward speed. (IANA "whacked by flying objects" medical expert)
posted by ctmf at 11:46 AM on December 31 [1 favorite]


related: creepy behavior from a Spot in the wild

twitter linque
posted by runehog at 12:39 PM on December 31 [1 favorite]


...creepy behavior from a Spot in the wild

...what's to keep someone from just picking it up and carrying it away? Or throwing it into a dumpster?
That could be very satisfying.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:58 AM on January 1


I'm imagining some alititude-weight-velocity limit curve

Having read it now, it's kind of like that. There are Category 1, 2, 3, and 4. Category 1, the lightest is anything less than 0.55 pounds (so, toys). Category 4 needs an airwothiness certificate like a real airplane.

2 and 3 are the middle ground. Instead of operators curves for altitude-weight-speed, they just say the manufacturer or operator has to show that they won't be able to cause an injury equivalent to getting whacked by a solid object with a certain energy. So I guess you could put some padding on it or something, then hit people harder.
posted by ctmf at 12:56 PM on January 1


Oh and the restrictions against flying over people are pretty lame. Turns out, what you can't do is fly over an "assembly" of people, like a stadium, and you can't do "sustained flight" over a person. But it seems like you can fly over anyone you want on the way to somewhere else, because that wouldn't be sustained fight over any person. So using a crowded NY sidewalk as your flight path would seem to be ok, at least the way I read it.
posted by ctmf at 1:01 PM on January 1


I had the opportunity to work with a Spot-type prototype bot in the field. Not an actual Boston Dynamics model, but basically the same design (including the reverse-bending front legs). I presume it's as close as someone could get without violating their patents. Really neat.

Anyway, one day while it was being tested, it freaked out. Looked a bit like it was having a seizure: all its limb movements became disorganized relative to each other, making it seem like it was "kicking". One of its limbs put a hole in an interior wall. The torque motors that drive the limbs are big and produce more power than I would have assumed they did. The limbs are capable of moving very fast at their maximum slew rate (which is rarely used except to avoid falling; see the hockey-stick guy). Eventually one of the operators slapped the E-stop and that was the end of that little oopsie, but I don't know if the production Boston Dynamics bots have an obvious E-stop on them.

You don't want to be near a piece of powered-up industrial machinery—which is what they are—when it malfunctions, is what I'm saying. And triggering some thrashing-type behavior by doing something unexpected like picking it up seems like it could leave you with fewer fingers (or hands) than you started with. I'd want to be really sure of its programming before I picked one up and tried to toss it anywhere.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:07 PM on January 1 [9 favorites]


the lightest is anything less than 0.55 pounds (so, toys)
Toys, to pick one example, with a 4K, 3-axis gimballed camera, 30 minute flight time, 30 knot top speed, and 10km range (in line-of-sight). Not high end by today's standards, but much more capable than a Phantom of a few years ago.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:08 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


That would be Cat 1 if it had some kind of guard over or around the rotor blades. All the categories prohibit "exposed rotating parts that could lacerate the skin"
posted by ctmf at 9:29 PM on January 1


Blade guards are an optional extra. I wonder if they push it over the max mass though.
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on January 1


This is the first update I've had since I watched Asimo climb stairs in like 2006 or something.
posted by aniola at 10:15 AM on January 3


Looks like they've got the post kill celebrate emote all sorted.
posted by enkiwa at 10:31 PM on January 3


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