They can run and you can’t hide

Did you see the video over the weekend of Boston Dynamics’ new robot skill?

Its backflipping robot – the one it loves to push over and hit with sticks – can now run.

Of course, hitting its robots with hockey sticks is necessary to test and prove how resilient they are.

But when you watch the videos, it always feel a bit malicious:

Source: Boston Dynamics’ YouTube

Just look at poor Atlas (that’s what they call that model) about to fall face-first on to the concrete.

Well, I say face-first. But I suppose he can’t really fall face-first because he doesn’t have a face. He also can’t be a he.

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas came to fame through a video of it backflipping off a box about five months ago.

Today, he can not only backflip, but run in the park, too.

(Click the video to watch on YouTube.)

The comments thread on that video is full of people joking about robots taking over the world. And when you have a look through Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, it’s hard not to agree.

Its dog-like SpotMini can now climb stairs and open doors – even while a man hits it with a hockey stick. Boston Dynamics sure does love hitting its robots with sticks.

But when you get past the instant and fearful reaction of seeing a robot act in an all too animal-like way, you start to see real possibilities for good.

Yes, these developments will be used in war and all manner of nasty ways. But they will also be extremely useful in rescue situations.

It won’t be long until these robots are more agile than humans, and much stronger. They will make ideal rescuers.

Drone rescues puppy from storm drain

For example, here’s another viral video from last week. This time of a drone rescuing a puppy from a storm drain.

(Click video to watch on YouTube.)

That puppy was trapped 20 feet down in a drain. So a drone pilot modded his drone with an automatic harness to pick up the puppy and fly it to safety.

It does beg the question of, why didn’t they just use a pair of ladders? But apparently the weight of the ladders would have collapsed the debris the puppy was cowering on and sent it into the sewage. Apparently, anyway.

As drone, robot and AI technology advances, we will start seeing a lot more robot rescues.

There are many places drones can go that even small helicopters cannot. And if you lose a robot rescuing someone from a fire or a collapsed building, it’s not a big deal. If you lose a human, it is.

And it appears robot rescuers and robot killers alike will soon be able to mimic our voices and intonation.

Much hype about Google Duplex

It’s going to happen. I’m going to bring it up again.

In Terminator II there is a scene with the bad robot and the good robot talking to each other in other characters’ voices.

The bad robot has just killed John Connor’s foster parents and is impersonating them on the phone. The good robot then impersonates John to see if it’s a robot or a human on the other end of the line.

You can watch the scene here. But be warned, there is some swearing and graphic violence at the end.

The reason I’m talking about Terminator again is because Google has just unveiled its latest creation: Duplex.

This is basically Google’s voice assistant made to sound more human. And it really, really does.

In this short presentation Google shows it booking a hairdresser’s appointment and reserving a table at a restaurant. The restaurant reservation doesn’t go to plan, but Duplex doesn’t miss a beat.

Whether it’s really as powerful as it’s shown to be in the presentation remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt it soon will be.

We could be a lot closer to a reality like the film Her – where the main character falls in love with his computer’s voice – than we realise.

Running, walking, jumping robots with human-like voices and foibles will soon be here. They will be used for both evil and for good. And the world will never be the same again.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Robotics

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