Also a super soaker, filled with soapy water
October 18, 2021 1:53 PM   Subscribe

 
Just like the Raxacoricofallapatorians!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


One more reason trans girls will be vital to the success of the revolution.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:58 PM on October 18, 2021 [17 favorites]


You think the robots can't solve that problem?

Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis - micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue - flesh, skin, hair, blood.
posted by bjrubble at 2:00 PM on October 18, 2021 [14 favorites]


Ahhh… that ancient and sometimes pleasant tale about the big, expensive machine that can be taken down with maybe 25¢ of household products.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:02 PM on October 18, 2021 [11 favorites]


Depending on the application do they need to be super durable, though?

One scenario is they attempt to replace humans in long term combat. But others could be just dropping 100 off these into a combat situation and letting them soften up an enemy. When a unit is immobilized it could be rigged to explode.

I don’t know what’s practical or not, but I wouldn’t assume they’re thinking a murderbot is going to be in action for days, weeks or months. Minutes or hours could be enough.
posted by jzb at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]




Seems like this criticism is poorly aimed. Underwater ROVs have been around for decades and seem to operate reliably enough when completely immersed in saltwater. Just because Boston Dynamics hasn't weatherized its murderbots doesn't mean they won't get around to it before deploying them for keeps.
posted by logicpunk at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2021 [37 favorites]


Acid, water and salt are really hard on anything that relies on metal being exposed to the environment. Plastics, which are durable under those conditions, are vulnerable to ceramic grits (like diatomaceous earth), especially in wet slurries that stick to joints or surfaces that need to move past each other.

ROVs that do more than the simplest tasks break down a lot and need dedicated maintenance techs on them pretty much full time. The ones that do long endurance tend to be fully sealed without external orifices (as gun-toting ones could not be).
posted by bonehead at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


Building tanks and armoured personnel carriers is a known technology. Removing the humans from them and turning them into algorithmic killer drones is not a great leap. If, after they've been hardened, they no longer look like good-boy doggos, it's a tradeoff to be made.
posted by acb at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2021 [10 favorites]


Time to invest in nets and brine. Maybe a harpoon or two.
posted by fight or flight at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine is an engineer at Boston Dynamics. They've been testing robots like Big Dog in all manner of weather conditions (including snow and deep cold), as well as different terrain types. This video from over a decade ago shows winter testing.
posted by jordantwodelta at 2:29 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


Just because Boston Dynamics hasn't weatherized its murderbots

Insofar as the promises of a corporation can be trusted, Boston Dynamics prohibits weaponizing their bots. This is a Vision 60 from Ghost Robotics with a Sword International 'special purpose unmanned rifle'. If we're going to be mad at companies for immanentizing episodes of Black Mirror, let's pick the right ones.
posted by zamboni at 2:32 PM on October 18, 2021 [17 favorites]


A friend of mine is an engineer at Boston Dynamics.

what are your friends' biggest concerns regarding real world implementations and environmental difficulties

please describe in detail :)
posted by paimapi at 2:32 PM on October 18, 2021 [22 favorites]


I'll usually be the first one to say that robots and AI are not as scary as you'd think, and they'll fail for all kinds of reasons. Forgetting about waterproofing the final product is not one of those reasons.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 2:34 PM on October 18, 2021 [12 favorites]


what are your friends' biggest concerns regarding real world implementations and environmental difficulties

He's very aware of what these machines look like from the outside, and how they could be used against human beings. No one at that company has any illusions about what they're building. I remember being at the test facility watching them do a run-down test at like 30 mph on one of the quadraped bots, and having an engineer turn to me and say 'you definitely do not want one of these things chasing you.'
posted by jordantwodelta at 2:35 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


No one at that company has any illusions about what they're building

the difference between someone making a shit ton of money making something that they don't realize will be used to inflict pain, suffering, and death onto others and someone who does it knowing what it'll eventually be used for is probably the smallest concern me or anybody else has about this

they're evil fucks, complicit in the massively evil project called war, and they can go fuck themselves

so I don't really care about them or their intentions lol. I just want to know how to break it easily and cheaply so that nobody ever uses their fucking tech
posted by paimapi at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2021 [50 favorites]


Your friend is building tools of oppression and should consider sabotaging the work for the sake of his immortal soul.
posted by JDHarper at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2021 [36 favorites]


Wow, seriously? Immortal soul? Evil fucks? You do realize Boston Dynamics didn't build the robot linked by here by the OP. But thanks for the third-party judgment of my buddy after I tried to provide some insight on weather hardened robotics, I guess?

What do you think about the 'evil fucks' who build these? I'd love to hear it.
posted by jordantwodelta at 2:47 PM on October 18, 2021 [28 favorites]


He's very aware of what these machines look like from the outside, and how they could be used against human beings. No one at that company has any illusions about what they're building.

And yet they have a non-military fig leaf policy? For legal reasons, or PR, or what? It's teeth-grindingly obvious.

jordan, I'm sorry if it seems you're getting piled on. I really appreciate your insight. I am sure your friend is a decent person. A lot of ordinary people in important jobs are decent people. It's why Hayao Miyazaki could make a lovely film about the dreamy boy who designed the war machines for the Japanese Imperial Army.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:53 PM on October 18, 2021 [13 favorites]


(tbh an actual Boston Dynamics robot war seems almost like a relief in contrast)
posted by Countess Elena at 2:55 PM on October 18, 2021


Time to invest in nets and brine. Maybe a harpoon or two.

America's endless wars have put a great deal of selection pressure on contractors. As a way to deal with sabotage in the field, it is probably a matter of time until militaries join bot makers with some small startup that does self-repairing or repellant chemistry. People need to think a few generations past what these folks use for fuel tanks in miltary craft, for instance.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:59 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


I think what people don't realize is that stuff like Big Dog is only a small portion of the robots that BD designs and builds. It's what gets the most press, but they've been building a vast array of robots for a very long time, most of which are ultra-specialized to specific tasks.
posted by jordantwodelta at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2021


What do you think about the 'evil fucks' who build these? I'd love to hear it.

Hoo boy I am sorry that you are getting piled on here as well, as if you personally built and deployed militarized robot dogs instead of just knowing someone who does a similar thing.

That said, trying to trip up Mefites by daring them to call automobile manufacturers evil fucks is...probably not going to go the way you hope.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2021 [19 favorites]


Take a look at Dino, a real robot for farm work. Any f the prototypes are fragile toy experiments. Perhaps any who have not done 10+ hours in the field all summer will also grouse that it's taking away a below minimum wage job from migrants, but the workers should be web designers anyway. But if giant farm robots can do weeding and other efforts that currently are handled by pesticides and weed killer chemicals, I'm all for huge gigantic robots.
posted by sammyo at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


The industrial robot you linked to is a tool for building cars more efficiently and safely.

What are these robot dogs tools are for, exactly?

I know that Boston Dynamics says not to weaponize their robots but that's exactly what they're built to be. They don't need guns attached to be tools of a police state. As you quoted, "you do not want one of these chasing you."

I'm not trying to attack you here, and I'm sorry if my initial comment came off that way.

But I do think that technology is not a neutral thing. Building a tool that makes it easier for the police or the military to oppress people is a decision with moral weight, whether that's a facial recognition database or a mass email surveillance tool or a police APC or a robot dog to track and chase you.
posted by JDHarper at 3:08 PM on October 18, 2021 [24 favorites]


I appreciate your clarification of your comment, JDHarper.

How far down the rabbit hole do we go? Industrial robots build SUVs that are sold to police departments that use them to...chase people down. Any lab that researches disease can also culture bacteria and viruses to cause harm.

Almost any technology can be perverted / misused / turned into a weapon. It can be difficult to think of a neutral technology when examined through that context.
posted by jordantwodelta at 3:13 PM on October 18, 2021 [14 favorites]


But are the robot dogs actually effective military/police/oppressive tools, or just a technical demo of the manufacturers' capabilities, with the ominous reading being not “imagine an authoritarian state siccing these on dissidents” but “imagine the actual weapons the maker of these could build if they chose to”?

They could probably have built, say, a robot ballet dancer with big anime eyes, which would have seemed less menacing, except to pessimists who paused to think through the implications of the technology.
posted by acb at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


For fuck's sake, this is almost my least favorite topic on MetaFilter, probably because I actually know shit about it. So, A) Can 80% of people please snap out of fucking luddite mode and appreciate that we're communicating on a DARPA project, and B) can everybody else stop pretending that Boston dynamics is building the next generation of puppy cuddling machines?

I know people who refuse military funding on principle, and their grad students eat a lot more ramen than everybody else. That's a problem, and the problem is not with the people involved. The problem is that the military literally ran out of things to do with all that money, so now they're thinking, we might as well build robocop in space. Except they can't cause they're too busy running 20 miles a day with a backpack full of rocks, so they pay the people who can.

And the people who can build space robocop are thinking hey, I don't want to build a killing machine, but maybe, just maybe, I can convince them that the thing I do want to build could be awesome for killing people! They'll be happy, the money will keep coming, my grad students will eat, and we get to create cool things.

The obvious problem is that if you create a cool thing, the chance that there's a way to kill people with it is not close to zero. Especially since, in this case, there's a selection bias towards the more convincing arguments that you can.

But the problem is not, as everybody thinks, with ethically stunted researchers (thanks), or blood-thirsty grant reviewers. The problem is that killing people is where the grant money is. The sooner that changes, the sooner we'll have that cutting-edge puppy cuddling technology we all want.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2021 [96 favorites]


I am absolutely fine with yanking back more of the military's funding so we can build something besides murder robots. But I don't think the brutalities of capitalism wipe your hands clean. At some point, the blood spatters on you too, and saying "I got to build cool stuff," doesn't clean it off.
posted by emjaybee at 3:27 PM on October 18, 2021 [27 favorites]


I happen to think, as an ex grad student in STEM, that rationalizing away an obvious problem does indeed qualify as being ethically stunted.
posted by polymodus at 3:32 PM on October 18, 2021 [15 favorites]


bjrubble: "You think the robots can't solve that problem?

Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis - micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue - flesh, skin, hair, blood.
"

Can't you just hear the Terminator saying: "Dr Sarah Taber"?
posted by chavenet at 3:35 PM on October 18, 2021 [9 favorites]




polymodus, I guess my point was that often, the choice is treating your students decently vs. indulging your own idea of pursuing only ethical funding, and I believe that at least there's a serious argument to be had there.

And emjaybee, if your threshold for ethical behavior is "not participating in capitalism," I think that academics generally do better at that than most. And also, c'mon, it would make almost literally everybody "ethically stunted," so no.

And again, as a society, we decide what to pay for, and unfortunately we sometimes get it.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 3:46 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


I'd like less talk about whether or not Boston Dynamics is contributing to our oppressive cyberpunk future and more talk about how "Don't worry, the high-tech tools that will be used to subdue us will be defeated by pickle juice" is the opposite of reassuring. Do you think they will give up after the pickle juice prototype fails? Do you think it's impossible to make joints and sensors resistant to environmental hazards? Do you think any of these problems haven't already been solved in a variety of extreme environments? I guess maybe the mars rover just drives around the dust storms.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:48 PM on October 18, 2021 [23 favorites]


Probable ways to defeat killer robots that use current imaging technology and “AI” (that will sounds remarkably like an alt-fiction Home Alone):

Standees with high resolution print faces (paper) that have hand warmer pads duct taped liberally throughout, orbiting some perilous location on model train cars.

Wile E Coyote pranks like painting realistic images onto walls or covering pits with thin layers.

Adapted wolf traps (the steel wire snare kind).

Very-Obvious-To-Humans Pressure Plate Traps.

A deep pit with a speaker that emits realistic army grunt noises.

Maybe just a deep pit actually.

Small drones that fly towards RoboGuns and spray superglue.

But remember, this is probably 95% grift. Odds are it’s a Potemkin Robot that will actually be a human controlled drone.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:50 PM on October 18, 2021 [15 favorites]


This whole conversation is both amusing and alarming at once. I was working for Motorola Corporte in the late 1990's, before these robots. I got a new boss who told me about his theory of putting brain chips into people, and he was fucking serious, my friends. I once looked into the file cabinet of rejected R&D projects and it was amazeballs, what they thought about, and never did.

Never underestimate both the creativity and stupidity of software engineers.

That said, how about we all stop shitting on jordantwodelta and his honest and welcome postings?

One thing I learned at Motorola Corporate, your enemy's enemy is also my enemy's friend, n'est pas? I frankly enjoyed his postings and I'd like to hear about it, if all you reactionary folks don't mind.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:08 PM on October 18, 2021 [24 favorites]


I'm kind of skeptical of Taber's take, here. I suspect these are a lot more hardened than she's expecting.

As for the morality of working on products like this, it's a lot better than when I came into the employment market in the 1980's, when you had your chance to work on tech that could cause the world to end in nuclear fire or lead to a "Real Genius" style CROSSBOW PROJECT.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:18 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


I've been wondering why all my captchas lately were "Click on the soft vulnerable parts of the human."
posted by mittens at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2021 [92 favorites]


I knew there was a reason I love Super-Soakers.
People who are harassed by drones should take note.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2021


If robotic critters can do tasks like bomb neutralization, clear landmine fields, swell. Better than live dogs.
posted by theora55 at 4:24 PM on October 18, 2021 [5 favorites]


As much as the trolly problem level of ethical discourse continues, to address an actual real issue that may be slightly reassuring to the robophobic:

what are your friends' biggest concerns regarding real world implementations and environmental difficulties

Batteries.

The little robot dogs don't last long without a recharge, keeping ahead of them is bicycle speed if not a quick jog., and not for very long.

And I'll start to be concerned with the AI element when a Boston Dynamics bot can organize my sock drawer, well even find my sock drawer without and engineer in the loop.
posted by sammyo at 4:30 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


I used to know two researchers who used to work in biowarfare, back before it was banned. They were doing research on how to starve civilian populations. And they were two of the nicest people I ever met! I asked them once how on earth they could have done such research (with the help of conscientious objectors, no less), and they shrugged and said they never believed it could work. They felt they were getting lots of money to do cool biology and the ultimate objective would never be achieved. Luckily, they were right.
posted by acrasis at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


when a Boston Dynamics bot can organize my sock drawer

Cats can reliably find the sock drawer but organizing the socks is the last of their intentions.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


jordantwodelta: " What do you think about the 'evil fucks' who build these? I'd love to hear it."

Well, cars kill approximately 1.3 million people a year, over half of whom are not in the cars themselves, but rather pedestrians and cyclists who are probably poorer than the fucks driving the cars. And 93% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries.

So yes, anybody who participates in making cars is also an evil fuck.
posted by signal at 5:02 PM on October 18, 2021 [7 favorites]


The author seems to be faulting researchers for focusing on problems that haven't been solved instead of problems that have been solved (more or less.... water is just going to get certain places no matter what you do).
posted by dsword at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


Anybody who contributes to global warming by using up energetically expensive servers to read and post content on online discussion boards is directly responsible for the deaths of millions that will be caused by climate change, and is an evil fuck.

Not me, though! I'm justified.
posted by biogeo at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2021 [41 favorites]


the difference between someone making a shit ton of money making something that they don't realize will be used to inflict pain, suffering, and death onto others and someone who does it knowing what it'll eventually be used for is probably the smallest concern me or anybody else has about this

It's a pretty big concern to a lot of people who think they might be in one of those positions, but fuck anyone who builds things, right
posted by bashing rocks together at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


I fantasize about specialized versions of these being used to remove invasive plants, shrubs and trees. Just roamin' around, annihilating buckthorn, kudzu vine, etc, with extreme prejudice. Like, before the eastern hardwood forests are completely gone.
posted by MillMan at 5:10 PM on October 18, 2021 [18 favorites]


Please put down your weapon. You have twenty seconds to comply.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


You now have fifteen seconds to comply.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


and they shrugged and said they never believed it could work

Trump was never going to be elected either.

This thread is depressing as hell. Sometimes I think the real reason there'll never be a universal income is that it'll make it possible for lots more people to say "I won't take this job, because the work is unethical and this company makes the world worse." And sometimes I think who are we kidding, most people will still want higher incomes, and everyone else will continue to treat them as smart and responsible and welcome at parties for taking the jobs that help kill and oppress and pollute.

(biogeo, I'll stop reading metafilter if it'll get someone to stop pushing the state of the art on technologies that kill people. Seriously. Memail me, weapons makers of the world.)
posted by trig at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2021 [5 favorites]


You have five seconds to comply.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


Four... three... two... one... I am now authorized to use physical force.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


bashing rocks together: "It's a pretty big concern to a lot of people who think they might be in one of those positions,"

Not really such a big concern to the brown children who will end up on the business end of the autonomous weapon platforms.
But sure, let's focus on the rich white males' feelings.
posted by signal at 5:13 PM on October 18, 2021 [5 favorites]


I genuinely don't know how you think people are going to avoid jobs that build weapons if it doesn't matter whether your job does that or not.
posted by bashing rocks together at 5:15 PM on October 18, 2021


We'll be fine as long as no simple bastard also builds a phase conjugate tracking system mirror.

Or if we can't figure out where to put the giant popcorn ball.
posted by delfin at 5:18 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


If you have developed open source software, there is a very good chance your code will be used in autonomous murder bots in some way, even if it's just the web-based front-end for controlling them.

We've had a lot of open source software developers start to say people can't use their code if they're using it for certain things, like if it's being used by a group that have contracts with ICE.

Problem is, being open source, it's pretty fucking hard to control just where your software ends up.

Ask the guy who made Minix, which ended up on every Intel Management Engine chip in existence, despite him never being credited, and Intel desperately trying to hide was is on their ME chips.

So I don't know this whole shit with programming gets ethically squicky FAST.
posted by deadaluspark at 5:19 PM on October 18, 2021 [12 favorites]


One of mankind's longest aspirations has been to fly. And as soon as we could, it was hardly a moment before people started scheming how to drop bombs. This didn't even have to wait for the invention of airplanes; it started with balloons.

Every technology that can be used to wage war will be.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:35 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


(perfect is the enemy of good and all)
posted by trig at 5:35 PM on October 18, 2021


Seriously, the topic of biomechanically-mimicking robots is one that consistently leads to some of the most simplistic kneejerk Luddism on Metafilter. Never mind that robots of this type are already used for search-and-rescue missions in disaster situations where it's too dangerous for human rescuers to enter, never mind that companies like Boston Dynamics advertise a whole host of perfectly legitimate peaceful uses of the technology. Someone is going to put a gun on it, and therefore the whole thing must be written off as evil.

Yes, putting guns on an AI-powered quadruped robot is stupid and wrong. It's also no more effective, and a hell of a lot harder, than putting guns on an AI-powered wheeled rover, or a remotely-operated robot, or a flying drone. Yet no one is saying that the technology for self-driving cars or RC drones is evil in the same way. (Yes, I'm quite aware some of you will now happily declare that yes you do think it's evil and you always have. But somehow every thread on self-driving cars doesn't immediately turn into people declaring that it's inevitable that guns will be put on them.) The problem is not with the AI-powered robot technology, the problem is with the guns. Let's focus on destroying the arms dealers rather than the roboticists.

Anyway, I am 100% in favor of people sabotaging robots that are equipped with weapons, and it's good for information about their potential weaknesses to be disseminated. On the one hand, I think it's optimistic to think that engineers can't solve the problem of environmental challenges like water and salt. On the other hand, it does seem entirely likely to me that the companies winning bids to build these things for military or "law enforcement" use are going to be cut-rate outfits that won't bother with quality engineering beyond what looks good for closing the contract, so vinegar-filled water balloons are a pretty good idea to keep in mind.
posted by biogeo at 5:41 PM on October 18, 2021 [38 favorites]


I think that the idea is that they are faster to repair, faster to scavenge, and faster to birth, and could continue to shoot even if immobilized than the thing that they are fighting is going to be the problem.

Plus they don't need to be terrorized into carrying a bomb. They don't even need to be on your side initially.

Which I suppose cuts both ways, though.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 5:44 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


I only know Sarah Taber from her excellent food science podcast "Farm to Taber", which had some really good episodes, but now seems to be on hold. It is strange to see her in a different context.
posted by seasparrow at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2021


I mean, getting stalked by 20 robots through a cornfield tended by 30 robots is still largely an ag-tech issue, so I think she's qualified to speak on this, seasparrow
posted by runehog at 6:01 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


What's that old Soviet joke about there being just two jobs, one to guard a switch, and one to make a robot dog that bites the guard if he fails to guard the switch
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:18 PM on October 18, 2021 [11 favorites]


I thought the old Soviet joke was about how life was beautiful and idyllic but you just couldn't for the life of you find jars or pickle brine.
posted by deadaluspark at 6:23 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


To think I clicked on the comments thinking "Robots and water balloons and pickles! This will be fun!"
posted by mark k at 6:27 PM on October 18, 2021 [30 favorites]


It would have gone different if it were robot cats.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:31 PM on October 18, 2021 [7 favorites]


To think I clicked on the comments thinking "Robots and water balloons and pickles! This will be fun!"

You monster!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:31 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


Looking up specs:
Optical zoom - 30x
Caliber - 6.5mm Creedmoor
Capacity - 10 rounds
Meaning it's a sniper rifle on human-remote-controlled legs. (Any 'AI' involved would be to keep it from falling over when one leg steps on a round rock.)
Less 'you have 10 seconds to comply' and more unloading one of these from a coffin-sized Pelican case off the back of a truck, holding up the goggles and controller from a Playstation VR and asking 'Okay, they've set up to ambush our convoy, about 2km ahead. Which one of you is really good at Far Cry?'
posted by bartleby at 6:35 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


In the double-edge-case of 1)these robots being deployed en masse and 2)these robots being deployed with massive vulnerabilities, I think the automatic maximum sentence felony is likely to be handed out to anyone who pickle juice's the bots. With these bots, resisting arrest becomes felony property destruction (or maybe felony assault if the law stretches to include these dogs as officers of the law) regardless of the righteousness of the resistance. It feels like it'll just be another tool for mass incarceration for anyone who dares resist.
posted by Philipschall at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


It's also no more effective, and a hell of a lot harder, than putting guns on an AI-powered wheeled rover, or a remotely-operated robot, or a flying drone.

Indeed. There's a reason that the new hotness in killer robots that are being developed and deployed right now are flying bombs ("suicide drones") that drop on your head. They're not precisely simple devices, but they're much easier than slapping a gun onto a robotic chassis. They've (allegedly) taken down Russian-built air defence systems.

Russia apparently has some sort of robot tank, which also seems much more likely to be reliably deadly than slapping a gun onto a robot quadruped. I'm not saying nobody is going to use robot bipeds or quadrupeds in war eventually, but by the time they are in use we'll already be awash in drone swarms and robotanks...
posted by BungaDunga at 6:52 PM on October 18, 2021 [4 favorites]


I'm kind of skeptical of Taber's take, here. I suspect these are a lot more hardened than she's expecting.

After all, it's not like the military-industrial complex would be so silly as to spend billions on a plane that can't fly in the rain... Oh. Wait.

The feds used an industrial fogger on protesters in Portland last year—I suspect if they'd have had access to these, they'd have been deployed against moms with signs and dads with leafblowers, too.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:00 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the fact that this isn't some theoretical technology. Other nations are already using it for actual murder. Less than a year ago, Israeli intelligence services used a "killer robot" (an existing model machine gun operated by robotic arms hidden in the back of a pickup truck) to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist.
posted by seasparrow at 7:02 PM on October 18, 2021 [11 favorites]


That one weighed several tons and was bolted onto a flatbed truck. I don't doubt they're going to get more svelte and less heavy, possibly soon, but it'll probably look like a mini-tank and not like a robodog.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:08 PM on October 18, 2021


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SGR-A1 - 258lbs and it's made by the folks who made my TV.
posted by ryoshu at 7:11 PM on October 18, 2021


made by the folks who made my TV (Samsung)
You monster!
posted by bartleby at 7:30 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


Sentry guns do have the advantage of being mounted into poles driven into the ground. It seems to me that the hard part is aiming the dang gun and maintaining control of it, and that's gotta be way harder when you're being held aloft by four legs driven by electric motors and a lithium-ion battery. Maybe they can actually do it, I don't know. It seems like a really hard problem though.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:35 PM on October 18, 2021


"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SGR-A1 - 258lbs and it's made by the folks who made my TV."

Don't forget Palmer Luckey's various contributions:

(Warning flashy ads for dumb military toys from the guy who brought you Oculus Rift.)

Ghost 4 Launch

CBP Sentry Tower Deployment (As in Customs & Border Patrol)

Forcefield cUxS

And of course they're another company named after something from Lord of the Rings, because of course.

Also to be fair, while the ads are overly flashy, he did make a deal with the Air Force.

Like with the FPP, I think it's questionable how many of these devices really hold up in a use-case environment.
posted by deadaluspark at 7:39 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


The robot that will eventually kill you will not look like any extant creature, nor will it cost a small fortune. Instead, it'll cost roughly $5 in bulk, be launched dozens or hundreds at a time and will more closely resemble a tangle of propellers.

It will not kill you by firing a traditional projectile but will instead detonate a 100 gram explosive charge in close proximity to your head, shortly after you wondered what that high-pitched noise was.
posted by aramaic at 7:56 PM on October 18, 2021 [22 favorites]


It seems to me that the hard part is aiming the dang gun and maintaining control of it, and that's gotta be way harder when you're being held aloft by four legs driven by electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.

Oh, definitely harder than a static platform. Adding robots to smaller platforms with known wear and tear for battle that no longer need humans inside of them is much more practical than fancy murder puppers. The cheap one-off autonomous drones scare me more than the fancy-expensive-and-easily-disabled-robots. Daniel Suarez has been talking about this stuff for years now.
posted by ryoshu at 7:57 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


The NYPD has killed infinitely more people with cars than with robot dogs, but that doesn't mean I'm a-ok with them dropping thousands of dollars on military toys that they can use as tools of intimidation in public housing projects, especially when NYC could be spending spending its money on hiring people who are trained for crisis intervention in a domestic setting and who view the residents of public housing as human beings who should be treated with respect and care.

Yes, we should be providing civilian funding for research of all kinds. Yes, there are non-horrible uses for robots. But given how these things were funded, how they're being marketed, and to whom, I think it's pretty silly to pretend they're just another neutral tool. That's kind of like saying that Palantir and NSO's products can't be all that bad because software can be used for good things, too! Like playing Tetris.

You like Tetris, right?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:06 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


Any more monkey wrenching / asymmetric ideas? I can think of these:

1. Jam its control frequencies
2. Spray paint its optical sensors
3. Monofilament beheading
posted by hypnogogue at 8:08 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


Quantity has a quality all it's own.

Current robotics demonstrations are pretty much that, demonstrations of the control firmware/ software. You can then install it into whatever mission-specific chassis you want.

A swarm of cheap flying drones carrying a small payload of high explosives is probably more cost effective than a few highly hardened murderbots.

So what if you lose 90% of your swarm, you only need for 1 to get to each of your targets. Flying drone swarm AI is pretty darned impressive already.

Remember the Tokyo Olympics and that swarm of drones that did an animated fireworks simulation?

Your cell phone intermittently (? or more often?) chiprs out it's IMEI/ IMSI - get a drone swarm to listen for a specific one and...
posted by porpoise at 8:08 PM on October 18, 2021 [7 favorites]


2. Spray paint its optical sensors

It's expensive, but you can get paint with EMF-blocking properties. Get big buckets and splash it all over these fuckers and block their Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Cellular connections? I'm not really sure how much they'll block while they're wet, but it'll at least also cover the visual sensors in the meantime.

---

Current robotics demonstrations are pretty much that, demonstrations of the control firmware/ software. You can then install it into whatever mission-specific chassis you want.

Dog opens its eyes. "I know Kung Fu."
posted by deadaluspark at 8:16 PM on October 18, 2021 [5 favorites]


So, as long as we're kicking around simple ideas of how to sabotage life threatening technology developed and deployed by the rich and powerful, anyone feel like discussing the extraction, processing, and transport of fossil fuels?

How about the design, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons?
posted by Reverend John at 8:39 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


Any more monkey wrenching / asymmetric ideas?

As of now, how good are these things at getting out from under a blanket?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:39 PM on October 18, 2021 [10 favorites]


Underneath, it's a hyper-alloy combat chassis - micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it's living human tissue - flesh, skin, hair, blood.

Spoiler alert: one of those models got hacked by resistance fighters waging severely asymmetrical warfare, and they learned everything about the basic OS, which was ported onto the next-generation platform. I know that TFTW was about physical attacks, but if you get a working model, you can use that control to see if it has any countermeasures for monkey-wrenching.

Underwater ROVs have been around for decades and seem to operate reliably enough when completely immersed in saltwater.

Absent the presence of Deep Ones that has been covered up (and, speaking of James Cameron, do you think that he'd shut up about that if he'd seen them in his meanderings around the bottom of the sea?), ROVs haven't been attacked directly or deliberately.

Yes, they're going to be improved on, possibly even proofed (for a while) against some of the environmental hazards that Dr. Taber talks about, But, unless you're willing to risk having actual autonomous automatons (and therefore some subsequent semi-Skynet-ish scenario), they have to have some interaction with the environment somehow, even if it's just to receive orders about where to go and whom to kill. That's a potential vulnerability.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 PM on October 18, 2021


okay this is going a long way back now but

One more reason trans girls will be vital to the success of the revolution.

I apologize if this is part of Trans 101 or is one of those aspects of trans life that cis people shouldn't really ask or remark about, but:

Do trans women really like pickle juice or something?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:49 PM on October 18, 2021 [6 favorites]


It will not kill you by firing a traditional projectile but will instead detonate a 100 gram explosive charge in close proximity to your head, shortly after you wondered what that high-pitched noise was.

So The Sopranos remake will have a better ending.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:51 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


Human beings are also remarkably fragile, yet they have been able to kill many of their fellow humans.
posted by interogative mood at 9:06 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


General discussion about countermeasures for automated ("AI," piloted, hybrid, whatever) murdermachines, I find, has limited utility as any credible manufacturer would have extensive countermeasures analyses done before, during, and after any particular design.

I could bend even just following ISO9001 to ensure that such analyses were made and addressed.

Sensors being a weakness has been brought up a lot, but sensors can be anything from gamma, human visible, microwave, radio, etc. Also vibration pickups including through the air (sounds) that can sense outside of human range. Whether the sensors are passive or active makes a lot of difference, too.

Productive discussion would have to be about specific hardware platforms and maybe even current software revisions, as 0day vulnerabilities are published. This could be hacking/ jamming the controller signal and/ or produce illusory signals to the channels that the platform relies on.

“The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed. William Gibson. The Economist, December 4, 2003”
posted by porpoise at 9:27 PM on October 18, 2021 [3 favorites]


Or, y'know, just walking up behind it with a mylar space blanket.
The swing arc on those legs is what, like 15 degrees? Which means each of the four legs has to make 12 complex gyro-stabilized motions, all coordinated with each other, - just to turn around and look behind it.
Ooh! Or flypaper. Ever seen 'cat like reflexes' react to putting a paw onto sticky tape?
posted by bartleby at 9:46 PM on October 18, 2021 [2 favorites]


BRB, making an anti-slamhound claymore mine / active area denial system. Gotta buy some used microwave ovens and take the front doors off.
THIS SIDE TOWARDS ROBODOG
posted by bartleby at 9:50 PM on October 18, 2021 [8 favorites]


"That housing's got more nooks & crannies than a dang English muffin crumpet." FTFY, Dr Taber.
posted by Thella at 11:29 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


Poor reliability isn't a fatal flaw. WWII tanks for example had reliability numbers that varied from poor to appalling yet were still effective. IE: Some tank units would experience 90% losses to mechanical break down during a 300km trip. IIRC a particular antistellar example required 10hrs of maintenance for every hour of operation. I think there are some military airplanes currently with similar numbers for hours of maintenance.

It's expensive, but you can get paint with EMF-blocking properties.

Chrome bumper paint is less than a $100 a gallon and probably just as effective. Aluminum paint is even cheaper.
posted by Mitheral at 11:41 PM on October 18, 2021 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: it was amazeballs, what they thought about, and never did
posted by chavenet at 1:14 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


Well, this is a timely story.

So the context that all this occurred in, was at the Association of the US Army Annual Meeting & Exposition, a big military-industrial trade show and conference in DC. If the White House Correspondents Dinner is "nerd prom", then the AUSA Conference is "defense contractor prom". It's…really something. (In case anyone was wondering: yes, they did have a vaccine mandate. Also, they have a surprisingly good official photographer. And anyone can go, for the princely sum of $30.)

Anyway... a few observations:
  • I don't think the builder (who is not in any way connected to Boston Dynamics) meant to become famous. They're, like, a 30-person engineering company from Philly. This didn't seem like a calculated PR move. This is a company with 11 videos on YouTube, some of which were pretty obviously shot with a cellphone in their parking lot. Stark Industries this is not.
  • Their secret sauce / competitive moat / main differentiator has nothing to do with guns. Reading between the lines, they seem to be interested in selling or licensing the software that runs the robot. Or maybe getting bought by one of the big contractors.
  • It doesn't seem like it was really a big technical challenge. Far be it from me to criticize somebody's craftsmanship, and I'm not saying it looked like they slapped it together in a weekend, but... it was lacking... a certain je ne sais quoi. I'm sure if I thought about it, I could come up with specific reasons for the general impression, but that's what it was.
  • The intended audience was not one that was going to be particularly impressed with the gun part. The intended audience was supposed to be impressed with the fact that they took Preexisting Thing A and slammed it together with Preexisting Thing B and made something vaguely workable as a result, because in the world of defense systems that is a ridiculously, stupidly hard thing to do.
On one hand, I'm not really afraid of this thing. It's a tech demo. They're not going to be rolling them off an assembly line anytime soon. At least, not in the US, not soon. (Given the speed of military procurement, not a daring statement, I admit.)

But on the other hand, the guys who put it together didn't seem to regard it as particularly difficult or anything. Which is, in a way, a bit unsettling.

It's clear that building something like what they had isn't really a nation-state-level capability anymore. It's not yet at the level of "one semi-crazed dude in his garage", but certainly a "well-funded university with an engineering program" level, and we should assume that will only decrease over time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:59 AM on October 19, 2021 [12 favorites]


Do trans women really like pickle juice or something?

I'll MeMail you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:24 AM on October 19, 2021


> Bonus content: Drones falling out of the sky en masse in Zhengzhou, China

“As God is my witness, I thought drones could fly.”
posted by panglos at 4:07 AM on October 19, 2021 [7 favorites]


autonomous murder bots in some way, even if it's just the web-based front-end for controlling them

Okay, IoT autonomous murderbots is very clearly a Bad Idea though - we can all agree on that, right?
posted by eviemath at 4:36 AM on October 19, 2021


The intended audience was supposed to be impressed with the fact that they took Preexisting Thing A and slammed it together with Preexisting Thing B

Bootstrapping parts availability is the biggest strategic issue here. Up til around now the parts for robots have been pricy low run custom items, from sensors to chips to stepper motors. That is starting to change and the robot revolution is dawning. It's as significant as, well, fire. For good and well "good" for the conquerors.

The robot dog with a gun is significant only that it gets folks to notice. It's the cognitive dissonance, the public notice two issues, the new horrible and the cute. No really, so many deaths, no one screams eliminate cars.

As much as pickle juice shines a light on the entire entrepreneur/corporate psychology (ship fast, if it breaks, ship rev 2) it's getting easier to make useful robots. At some point they will be doing not just good work but important and someone will ship robots that don't break easy. For good and bad.
posted by sammyo at 4:44 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


Never underestimate both the creativity and stupidity of software engineers.

Speaking as a software engineer, I'd like to propose that we replace the "community weblog" tagline at the top of every post with this exact sentence.
posted by Mayor West at 4:53 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


Molotov cocktail
posted by freakazoid at 4:55 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


16 mentions of Boston Dynamics in this thread, only two in the article, stating that this was not made by them. Hmmm.

I'm purely excited about the idea of disabling robot dogs myself, in some horrific future. Blankets and soap and water balloons, yes. Where is this movie?
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:19 AM on October 19, 2021


"It's clear that building something like what they had isn't really a nation-state-level capability anymore. It's not yet at the level of "one semi-crazed dude in his garage", but certainly a "well-funded university with an engineering program" level, and we should assume that will only decrease over time."

It's time for the satire about universities going to war with each other.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:27 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


I appreciate the conversation about the morality of creating these, and I find it interesting and I get it, but I also think that it's kind of missing that for a lot of people this is not abstract. I live right outside DC, and I go to a lot of protests. DC has roughly thirty (thirty!) law enforcement agencies. There is a non-zero chance that I or people about whom I care are going to face something like this in the future. It's scary and, while I have some sympathy for the good, kind people who work in the field of robotics and incidentally facilitate something like this, I have a lot more sympathy for the people who are going to be facing these in the streets when the cops and military start using them to quell unrest or whatever.
posted by an octopus IRL at 5:35 AM on October 19, 2021 [9 favorites]


Back on subject...I trust that the author of the OP knows more about robot dogs than I do, but I also would be very nervous about facing down a robot with a Super Soaker based on her Twitter feed. Last year, when people were attending a lot of protests where they might reasonably encounter mounted police officers, a horse trainer (I believe?) did a video where she explained how to handle a horse to keep them from attacking you. Fair enough, but it was quickly pointed out that the horse you encounter on the farm was very different from a horse trained to work with the police, and following the advice in this video could get you hurt or worse.

Now, that's a horse...an animal that has existed in the real world for a really long time, and one that most of us have personal experience with, if limited. This robot? It's mostly theoretical in our minds. Even this robot expert is basing her knowledge on looking at a video of the robot. She hasn't actually tried to disable one of these in the wild. Who knows if what we're seeing is what would really be out there...or how different it might be based on the criticisms she raised in this very thread.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:46 AM on October 19, 2021 [6 favorites]


I use a lot of old tools in my hobby. One of my favorites is a 1929 Little Giant Power hammer, with a 50 lb hammer that goes up and down via a linkage to a rotating flywheel that in turn is powered by an electric motor and v-belt. In it's nearly 100 years of service, it has seen thousands of hours of use, in conditions that included acidic fluxes and gasses from the forge, daily dew cycles (1800 lbs of cast iron holds onto the night chill well into the day,) freezing and roasting temperatures, plus all the pounding, vibration, and stress of slamming said hammer up and down up to 320 beats per minute, the original dubstep. In all that time, according to the records kept by the original manufacturer of its serial number, it has only needed to have one spring replaced, as per the manufacturer's recommendation of replacement after 1000 hours of use, which has happened twice in its history.

The ever present grit that gets into those linkages just gets ground into a thin lubricating paste then washed out by the total loss lubrication system. The original Babbitt bearings, when I pulled it apart after purchase to make sure they was still good, gleamed like mirrors.

All that said, if 100 years ago some engineers could design a hard-use tool like this and have it, and many of its brothers and sisters, still in use after a century, perhaps we should pretend that modern engineers can make an mechanical system that can survive a few hours at a protest or on a battlefield, even if someone is throwing grit, electrolytes, and acid at it.
posted by Blackanvil at 6:21 AM on October 19, 2021 [16 favorites]


...They could probably have built, say, a robot ballet dancer with big anime eyes, which would have seemed less menacing...

/failure-of-dystopian-imagination

...And when it performs a beautiful pirouette, centrifugal force causes blades to slip out of it's arms, turning it into a handy murderbot... Plus, it is probably more agile than the average citizen.
posted by rozcakj at 6:50 AM on October 19, 2021


acb: " They could probably have built, say, a robot ballet dancer with big anime eyes, which would have seemed less menacing…"

We seem to have very different definitions of 'menacing'.
posted by signal at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]


Forget the comic book robot dog. Forget about all these exotic sensors. Worry about a rotary grenade launcher mounted in a glorified shopping cart, roughly aimed using telemetry fed by an orbiting drone.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:58 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The power of a 700 billion dollar defense budget is insignificant next to that of some straggly-bearded guys with rifles, cellphones, motorcycles and IEDs.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:14 AM on October 19, 2021 [8 favorites]


Blackanvil, that sounds like an awesome machine, and I'm glad that it does its job well and reliably. But, pertinent to this conversation, your last paragraph in no way logically follows from your description of the power hammer, because--and this is speculation on my part, but justifiable IMO--no one has deliberately tried to destroy it, and it's probably been used in one particular environment, with predictable hazards, for its entire operating life.

The sort of murderbot that we're discussing has to be able to function in often-unpredictable environments against often-unpredictable threats, and further has the disadvantage that its opponents won't have any qualms about destroying it, because it's just a thing. A thing whose only purpose is to hurt or kill people. The more armor that gets stuck on murderbot, the heavier it will be and more power that it will use and the less time that it has before it has to be refueled or recharged. The more sophisticated it is, the more things that can go wrong with it, and the more expensive that it is to replace. And there's a high likelihood that it could be destroyed with an IED, just as the very expensive, highly-engineered war machines used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan were routinely taken out by IEDs using cheap Casio watches. It's typically easier to break good things than to make good things; that's why asymmetrical warfare works. The absolute creme de la creme of American special forces--including members of Delta Force, basically created to be America's ninjas--were held off, and some of them killed, by people with AK-47s and RPGs in Somalia, because there were enough of the latter. (On preview, what TheophileEscargot said much more succinctly.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:17 AM on October 19, 2021 [4 favorites]


Ballet would be chosen to put the public at ease; the same mechanical faculties to allow a robot to perform it could also be adapted to more tactically formidable skill sets, like, say, parkour or Krav Maga.

Or, splitting the difference, capoeira.

More precisely, the public would see a robot performance of Swan Lake or something. An arms buyer in the audience would see Pris pirouetting and killing a blade runner.
posted by acb at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


I've worked with people who run underwater ROVs and aerial drones a fair bit. They always need two (or more) operational on any day because the odds of one failing are fairly decent. The consumer-grade flyers seem to be better now in good conditions, but fly them out of their fairly narrow range of usability and another thousand dollars is lost in the drink somewhere.

Maybe in the future there will be high reliability delicate components, but I kind of doubt it. My B-i-L runs a custom work operation, farm machinery for hire, and he has a fulltime mechanic with helper running the roads for parts as well to keep everything going. Mechanics and electronics take a lot of maintenance to keep running.
posted by bonehead at 7:34 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


let's pretend for one hot second that militarized, lethal, autonomous robots will never come to be. we'll take all the criticisms and observations from the article, this thread, and throw in anything else you'd like to say about why this engineered stuff will be fault-prone and/or susceptible to damage etc.

The immense dumbness of Star Wars did not prevent many millions of public dollars from getting shoveled into that particular pit. Aside from the fact that we will be the humans who get to witness the deployment of this crazy shit, and aside from the non-zero number of us who will likely encounter them in the streets somewhere, you can bet a lot of public money will be going to this crap whether it works at all, poorly, or well. Meanwhile, the poors get poorer etc. Pick your violence, either way we will surely "get some."
posted by elkevelvet at 7:42 AM on October 19, 2021 [6 favorites]


I don’t think reliability is ever going to be an issue. The military industrialists just want profitable product turnover and will be glad to deploy overwhelming numbers. In this case, a thousand duck sized horses (carrying guns) are going to kill your ass eventually.

Also, the evolving police state will be sure to pave a smooth path for these machines as a tool of social control by making any sort of interference with robot dog a serious criminal act.
posted by brachiopod at 8:24 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


I don’t think reliability is ever going to be an issue.

I do because money and effort is finite, even for the police, and unreliable systems don't make the cut all the time. Practicality matters a lot when trying to get things done. If something becomes too expensive, too impractical to use, it will drop out of favour and not be deployed. It won't get future funding either. We don't have airships not because they can't work but because they cost a lot for what they do and they're fairly unreliable.
posted by bonehead at 8:43 AM on October 19, 2021


In 2011 Iran hacked a predator drone in flight, and landed it in Iran.

I suspect that these things could be hacked for control, too, unless they're hardwired.

Wireless is by default insecure, because it's all radio signals. If someone can intercept the signal, they can eventually figure out how to mimic it and start sending similar commands, that the machine is waiting for, not concerned with where the radio signals come from.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:55 AM on October 19, 2021


Frictionless or sticky surfaces would seem problematic. No traction available, you take away the mobility aspect. Probably expensive to get the right stuff in quantity. Same with being stuck in place. Sticky substances can also have metallic flake or LED lights to make them more visible in darkness. Probably cheaper, more DIY immediate. Weight added to the unit would also drain battery, over time, but you'd need a lot of weight, I'd imagine.

A bear-trap tethered to a strangely shaped object that would drag/dig/catch on surfaces would slow something like this down.

Weighted bolo balls around the barrel so the aim would be less precise when in motion.

Anyhow, wow, didn't know I'd be thinking about his today.
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:58 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


Also, since Dr. Taber's and our suggestions are on public-facing websites, you can bet your ass someone at the Pentagon is scraping these results and taking our suggestions to fight these machines in consideration for how to protect these machines from harm.

Food for thought.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:27 AM on October 19, 2021


I'd be interested to see a writeup on the popularity of things like this, the previous advice of "here's how to poke the off-switch/remove the battery from the undercarriage", all of the advice that went around during last year's protests (ranging from good to questionable to "no, wait, don't stick that in your eye"); probably a few other clusters.

Because I think there's commonalities there. Will pickle juice itself actually work (especially given all the caveats around "felony harm to an officer" extending to dogs as precedent, this being a long-term maintenance issue vs. something that'll save you today, etc.)? Possibly, possibly not.
Is there value in remembering "these things have limitations & trade-offs"? Probably doesn't hurt.

Is this expressing some level of growing social concern with a system that's designing itself as increasingly unaccountable & insulated from change, & seems to be girding itself to crush organized resistance by bringing tools we're currently using internationally home? Very likely.

You don't get people hoping for a way to feel like they're squirreling away tidbits against a revolt of the elites for no reason, is what I'm suggesting.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:28 AM on October 19, 2021 [2 favorites]


Taber doesn't actually say that soapy water/pickle juice will immediately disable these robots, but will make them so unreliable/costly as to be impractical. More of an issue with the military than the police.

The cost of these things has gone down quite farther than I thought - the (not-the-topic-of-this-thread) Boston Dynamics Spot only costs a mere $75,000, while there are clones for less than $3,000. There's a lot of money left over for improving hardening/reliability, or just buying a whole fleet.
posted by meowzilla at 9:56 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


I trust that the author of the OP knows more about robot dogs than I do, but I also would be very nervous about facing down a robot with a Super Soaker based on her Twitter feed.

Yeah, with all respect to Dr Taber, this thing was a science-fair project, not a product.

It's representative of what a small company with some (probably minimal) amount of IRAD funding can do. Doing five minutes of light LinkedIn stalking, they seem to have around five actual hardware engineers on staff (and one "Mechatronics Technician", which I admit sounds pretty dope as job titles go).

These robots look super-vulnerable to normal wear & tear.

Based on other products, the big one with the gun either wasn't equipped with, or had all of its body and joint covers removed. Other models had flexible "boots" (as in "CV boot") over all joints. Also, the company has a Canadian patent which specifically mentions that "it may be desirable to have sealed sub-assemblies individually injected with inert gas to create positive pressure to block external flammable gases, dust and particulate from entering into the sub-assemblies". I feel like the pickle-juice problem may be something they have already considered.

Also, the robot itself doesn't have any external sensors on it, and the company's tagline is (per their website) "Robots That Feel The World®". I won't derail the discussion with what I think that means (unless others find that sort of speculative nerdery interesting), but the only optical sensor seems to be on the gun unit.

And at risk of doing free consulting work for the fine folks at S.W.O.R.D. International (really, dudes? how does Marvel feel about that trademark?), there's really no particular reason why they have to have a big vulnerable camera sitting co-axial on top of the gun. Shooting at stuff you can't see was a solved problem back in, uh (checks notes) 1815.

If we're doing Scary Robot Stories to Tell In The Dark, here's mine: a swarm of walker robots, all fully sealed—hell, amphibious—no external sensors. They navigate on IMUs and proprioception only, determining their relative position via GPS-like time of arrival analysis on each others' short-burst spread-spectrum radio transmissions, which would also serve as a command-and-control link. Maybe they periodically crap out a disposable sensor that acts as a low-power repeater to create a mesh network using highly-directional, Dishy McFlatface beam-forming antennas. (For fun, these are equipped with firecrackers and various emitters to spoof / decoy the enemy away from the actual robots. The Russian model will also have them be land mines.) The guns fire tracer rounds that glow in IR, which are "walked" onto targets by drones providing fire direction. Maybe the shooter-bots don't even communicate back to the fire direction drone, so as not to reveal their position; you could just broadcast the fire mission to the whole team, then have each one wait a random interval (during which it sees if another unit fires), then fire on the target. The fire director then determines if a hit occurred, or calls for another round, which could come from the same unit or a different one based on how far off the mark it was.

All of that is stuff that I'm pretty confident you could do with off-the-shelf parts right now, and it's probably no harder than the drone-swarm light displays at the last Olympics.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 AM on October 19, 2021 [5 favorites]


Kadin2048: "The Russian model will also have them be land mines."

Just FYI the U.S. of A. under Trump announced it was authorizing the use of landmines again. Biden has so far not reversed this decision.
posted by signal at 10:59 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


THEY sent A SLAMHOUND on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.
posted by valkane at 11:36 AM on October 19, 2021 [10 favorites]


I don't know if we want to go too far down the mine-ban rabbithole, but my feeling is that however well-meaning it might have been, its moment has passed. It was, to paraphrase Old Ben, "an elegant weapons ban, for a more civilized age". Specifically, the 1990s.

Peak support for banning land mines in the US coincided with the height of the Pax Americana / unipolar world / hyperpower doctrine, when the US military enjoyed substantial overmatch with any possible adversary. That (frankly contemptuous) attitude is what enabled the US to relinquish mines; they were simply perceived as unnecessary.

It is much harder to imagine the US military relinquishing any possible advantage, given the last two decades and the rise of "great power competition". As neither China nor Russia has acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, the US would essentially be pursuing it unilaterally.

The only argument against land mines that I suspect really carries much weight today, among people who are actually in a position to decide such things, is that they are a double-edged sword, preventing friendly forces from engaging in the sort of fast-moving, fire-and-maneuver battle that the US is good at, and in fact promote more slow-moving, static-front, attritional warfare of a type that the US is not good at and prone to lose. (Hence why China, Russia, North Korea, and other adversary states are unlikely to give them up anytime soon.)

But more than any particular military consideration, I think the position of psychological safety and invulnerability which allowed the US to pursue functionally unilateral (in the sense of not being acceded to by adversaries) arms limitations is gone.

But who knows; maybe I'm pessimistic. And maybe robot gun turrets will make conventional land mines obsolete as an area denial weapon anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


Speaking of ragtag bearded guys wreaking havoc with cheap Casio watches, I remember reading back in the Vietnam war days, that in Roman times it cost something like $1.50 to kill an enemy soldier. During the Vietnam war it cost us something like $12,000 to do the same. So sending a roughly $100,000 murder dog to get the enemy, against grit, stickiness, and pickle juice, probably raises that price by a whole lot.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:15 PM on October 19, 2021




During the Vietnam war it cost us something like $12,000 to do the same. So sending a roughly $100,000 murder dog to get the enemy, against grit, stickiness, and pickle juice, probably raises that price by a whole lot.

Does it, though? The War in Afghanistan cost somewhere around $2.3T, in order to kill somewhere in the neighborhood of 51,000 Taliban combatants (uh, depending on the breaks). That's something like $45M a head. Lotta headroom there for SLAMHOUNDs.

I think it's safe to say the US military isn't cost-optimized. It is arguably casualty-optimized: the US only lost 2,355 people against those 51,000, a kill ratio of something like 20:1. That's like Battle of Cannae numbers. I'm not aware of any other war in history with such a lopsided kill ratio, where the "winning" side still lost.

That said, I think you've identified what is perhaps the defining, maybe existential, challenge to the US, and it's one that's not limited to the military; it just happens that the military context makes it the most obvious.

"Great power competition" looks suspiciously unsustainable when one of the "powers" can build a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine for $750M, and the other needs $3.02B to make a similar item. Even if you toss a factor of 2 in there (the Ohio carries 24 missiles to the Jin's 12, although one could argue the latter does the same job just as well), that's still a 2:1 cost advantage.

I have a sort of "unified theory of bullshit costs" wherein the same sclerosis that plagues healthcare, infrastructure development, education, etc.—basically all the things that we seemingly "can't afford" as a society because of ballooning real costs—is also behind the military's cost problem. The military-industrial complex can't get its costs under control because too many of their jobs depend on those extravagant costs and their ability to continually justify them. And so, just like many other industries, the MIC is filled with "bullshit jobs", people whose main day-to-day occupation is creating enough work to occupy themselves and their direct reports.

But that's the sort of thing you don't say out loud, and will quickly get you sent out of the room when Adults Are Talking.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:02 PM on October 19, 2021 [10 favorites]


At the end of the day, the threat of these things is a social problem with a social answer. Humans are really inventive at figuring out how to do things if we're motivated enough, including working out smart ways to either take advantage of existing cheap tech (as with drone bombs) or to create. This information gets passed along social channels as it's identified and used as needed to obtain basic goals.

The trick is to change the structure of the society such that these things aren't such a research incentive: to change the view that people have of what a society should be for, how law enforcement should work, and what the rule of law actually is and should be. Tech innovations either way are mostly useful to figuring out how to bleed things out while you work on changing the social calculus that, theoretically, might allow a city to set these "robot dogs" on its people--and build up a furious demand for the job of the men holding the control console if someone does do this.

Social norms erode just as easily as metal under the slow pressure of acidic stress, gritty exhaustion, and casual indignity. We change the way people think about the world by telling stories, passing around images, and crafting rhetoric. At the end of the day, these questions don't have technological answers except insofar as you can use differences in technological ability to apply emotional and social pressure on one side of a conflict: technology buys time, not solutions to fundamentally social problems.
posted by sciatrix at 1:31 PM on October 19, 2021 [16 favorites]


When/if drone wars commence I think it's likely they will be quite fragile. And cheap. And innumerable. The fact that you can easily confuse/disable/out-think any one drone won't matter when there are a bajillion of them.
posted by lastobelus at 1:55 PM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]


Social norms erode just as easily as metal under the slow pressure of acidic stress, gritty exhaustion, and casual indignity.

I love the way you turn a phrase, sciatrix.
posted by biogeo at 2:48 PM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]


you can bet your ass someone at the Pentagon is scraping these results and taking our suggestions to fight these machines in consideration

They don't need us. I'm here to tell you, a junior sailor can break anything. They already have all the how-to-break-things ideas covered. If they don't protect against some form of attack, it will be because they made a risk-benefit decision not to.
posted by ctmf at 5:15 PM on October 19, 2021 [6 favorites]


As of now, how good are these things at getting out from under a blanket?

Haha, or: would it shoot a mirror?

The trick is to change the structure of the society such that these things aren't such a research incentive: to change the view that people have of what a society should be for, how law enforcement should work, and what the rule of law actually is and should be

I was thinking as I read the thread...what if the sensors they use are regulated? What if they couldn't use any sensor, any signal, that can be used to identify a person? Mistakes and accidents aside, targeting people could be technologically banned. Sure, when human-targeting murderbot software is banned only outlaws will have human-targeting murderbot software, but there could still be criminal charges for attempting to implement anything that can target humans. The law (and Constitution in general) can be whatever the lawmakers and voters say.
posted by rhizome at 7:21 PM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]


humans are good at either taking advantage of new technology or creating ways to thwart new technology. that's what I get for not checking my post for half finished sentences prior to hitting send.
posted by sciatrix at 6:49 AM on October 20, 2021




“Are you satisfied with your scare?”
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:55 PM on October 23, 2021


funny how Boston Dynamics has quietly been a viral force on the interwebs for so long now.. just subtetly reminding people every couple years that we're screwed when the AI gets pissed at us. then we'll be the dogs and they'll be our robot dog walkers

also here's their latest vid of a robot doing its best mick jagger
posted by quit160 at 3:29 PM on November 2, 2021


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