A Peacekeeping Pledge from Robot Makers

Boston Dynamics, the robotics company behind the development of advanced machines such as humanoid robots and dog-like robots, has pledged not to weaponize its technology. Along with Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics and Unitree Robotics, the makers of Spot and the dancing humanoid Atlas promised in an open letter not to add weapons technology to their robots.

They also say that they will not “support” other companies’ efforts to add harmful actions to their robots, and that they will try to find out about their clients’ plans and minimize the risk of weaponization.

“As with any new technology offering new capabilities, the emergence of advanced mobile robots offers the possibility of misuse. Untrustworthy people could use them to invade civil rights or to threaten, harm, or intimidate others. One area of particular concern is weaponization,” the letter said. “We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues. Weaponized applications of these newly-capable robots will also harm public trust in the technology in ways that damage the tremendous benefits they will bring to society.”

Why worry?

Boston Dynamics is showing up in most headlines about the letter, in part because it is probably the best known of the six companies among the general public.

But it was just last year that another robotics company added a gun to their obvious knock-off of Boston Dynamics’ Spot. Boston Dynamics had a no-weapons policy at the time, but their Spot robot was also used in a paintball gun stunt called “Spot’s Rampage.” Spot was also used by the New York police department in unweaponized but intimidating application that prompted public outcry.

The company has been criticized for building machines that some fear could be used for nefarious purposes, even though they have not gone further toward violence than their early video showing a man kicking a robot dog. Now, Boston Dynamics has insisted that its robots are intended only for peaceful purposes and that it will not develop them for use in warfare or other violent applications

How will the pledge help?

This pledge from Boston Dynamics and its cadre of robotics companies may help to quell some of the fears about the potential misuse of its technology, and instead focus on the potential positive applications of robots. However, the six companies are calling for other robot manufacturers to make the same pledge.

Robotics companies that refuse may increase public fear.

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