Skip to main content

For the moment, DARPA - that Shiva-like organization that has provided such wonders as the internet and such horrors as killer drones - insists that its humanoid robots are designed solely for support roles and for testing equipment designed for use by human troops.  And as with ARPAnet, these robots may some day be more prevalent in benign, Asimovian roles than as bringers of death and horror, but for the moment we can put off both the nightmares and the fantasies and simply marvel at what they're doing.  Videos below the fleur-de-Kos.

First, here is a video showing the evolution of two humanoid robots, Petman (Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin) - a humanoid robot ultimately designed for testing troop equipment - and Atlas, from relatively simple bipedal walking machines in 2009 into something much more science fiction-y today, and also briefly shows some non-humanoid robot projects:

 

The humanoid robots are clearly entering the Uncanny Valley where a "cute" resemblance starts to become disturbing.  Atlas in particular has built on the lessons of Petman and evolved into something that is actually more frightening than uncanny, as you can see in this video of its evolution (you can skip the animation in the first part unless you're curious about the technicals):

There will never be a future exactly like either Asimov's novels or the Terminator movies.  First of all, most things that a machine can do better than humans are better handled by machines specifically designed to do that one thing rather than a general-purpose robot.  Also, even if they're used as Skynet-style killers in war or even as enforcers domestically, that doesn't preclude benign applications, nor vice-versa.  There may come a day where major conflicts are generally automated and human involvement is mainly to die as helpless civilian casualties while the robots duke it out Transformers-style.  I don't know whether that's worse or better than Man's inhumanity to Man - maybe it's both.

Of course there's always the Frank Herbert side of things vs. the Asimovian: That robots would simply empower their human owners to enslave those who don't have any robots.  Herbert always was keener on political reality rather than the Gibbon-esque historiography of Asimov.  They could both be right: A society like Asimov's Spacer culture - rich, complacent, totally dependent on robots - could evolve, but he left out something that Herbert did not in his fictional history: That the owners of robots would first have to exterminate the surplus humanity they no longer needed to serve them, which would be growing increasingly restive as their economic prospects dimmed.

None of this is inevitable though.  Human beings are not passive tools of economics: We make conscious choices when we first make the "choice to choose," so we can choose a future where the growing productivity and comfort of an increasingly automated society is widely distributed and creates a post-scarcity world.  That will have its own dangers and limitations, its own disasters and horrors.  So when I see these DARPA videos, they are frightening, but within the fear they engender is the excitement of benign opportunities and possibilities.  

DARPA is one of those awesome things that represents a cynical excuse for a humane purpose, parasiting off of an institution that is itself parasitic (DoD) in order to return some value back to humanity.  I find that philosophically amazing and inspiring.  

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site