Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Robot gone wild

This is BigDog, starring in what is the wildest video of a robot I've ever encountered. It's otherworldly and yet oh-so-real. BigDog is like a pack animal or a goat, but it also looks like two humans facing each other with a big load on their backs. The best moments are when a researcher kicks it and while it slips on ice. I felt a visceral outrage.

As someone says in the comments at Slashdot, "Is anyone else creeped out by how natural the movements of this robot are? Maybe it's the lack of a head and the ominous buzz-of-death, I don't know. As I recall, there's some theoretical curve for robots where the human acceptance of a robot dramatically drops at a sweet spot as reality is approached and doesn't rise until reality is achieved. This robot definitely falls in that zone for me."

Someone else points out that this phenomenon has been called the Uncanny Valley (a most excellent phrase): "as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels." source: Wikipedia

Boston Dynamics is developing it for the Dept. of Defense - no surprise there. Can you imagine hauling your equipment through the mountains with such a machine, or being carried by/riding it?

I know that our design and use of robots says something about our humanity (or posthumanity, our future as humans), but it's not entirely clear yet what it's all saying.

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