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Do You Love Me?

Boston Dynamics · Youtube · 1230 HN points · 8 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Boston Dynamics's video "Do You Love Me?".
Youtube Summary
Our whole crew got together to celebrate the start of what we hope will be a happier year: Happy New Year from all of us at Boston Dynamics.
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this video.
Mar 31, 2022 · ericbarrett on Johns Hopkins Beast
We're doing OK though:
The skepticism is warranted for any bleeding edge technology. I wonder if there's another version of a Turing test when a technology can be considered sufficiently advanced when it's indistinguishable from a fake version you've seen in sci-fi. E.g, the Boston Dynamics' dancing robot video ( still looks fake to me because it's at the level that I would expect to see from Hollywood CGI rather than a real tech demo. If I saw the video anywhere else but on the BD page, I would have enjoyed it and forgotten about it since it's an average CGI video.
I genuinely don't understand your position. Are you saying a tech demo is only impressive if it can do things that can't be simulated? What can't be shown via simulation or CGI with enough time and money today? If we're limiting ourselves to video there's no interactive component.

Even though that dancing video likely had hundreds of takes, the part that makes it impressive is that it's real. I swear I'm not trying to be disagreeable here - I honestly don't understand your perspective.

I think what the author is trying to say is that if a technology is sufficiently advanced it seems like it can’t be real, meaning it’s something only possible with CGI. So we see these dancing robots, think “just more CGI”, then are astounded when we find out it’s real
Uncanny valley territory. Definitely will be a more subtle but significant “oh my…” strangely off but can’t put your finger on it. That Ben guy the female robot and her brother having a debate was essentially all of that. Sophie maybe?
Exactly. CGI is just movie magic. And now some real world tech demos are sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from CGI/magic.
Hrm. Is uncanny locomotion to modern robotics what uncanny valley is to CGI?

Fun to ponder.

That was certainly the perception I used to have, but this demo video changed my mind. :)

BD focus has been mainly on control and locomotion whereas what Goog wants is neural net-ification of perception and control altogether.
You can see a robot similar to 'Handle' dancing here:
Aren't these effectively lab tests of robots that can navigate a home?

[dancing] [cleaning clutter]

Boston Dynamics | Multiple Software Roles | Boston, Bay Area, and remote for some roles| Full-Time |

Boston Dynamics is a leading developer of mobile robots.

We're pushing the boundaries of what robots can do, including coordinated dancing -

We're focused on making our robots useful in the real world, such as for safe decommissioning of Chernobyl -

We are hiring for many roles -

Software oriented roles include Full-Stack and Frontend Engineers, Controls and Computer Vision Engineers, SQA Manager, and SWE roles for people with networking and systems experience.

Apply at

Are the remote roles open for Canadians or is this US based only?
Dec 30, 2020 · 4 points, 0 comments · submitted by rmason
Dec 30, 2020 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by gmays
Dec 29, 2020 · 5 points, 2 comments · submitted by ghshephard
Coming soon to a public housing development or protest near you.
erik_seaberg has more discussion.
Dec 29, 2020 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by ghgr
Dec 29, 2020 · 1218 points, 452 comments · submitted by modeless
If I didn't know who Boston Dynamics was, I would have said that this is just CGI. The animations look so fake. I think the issue is that they're aggressively smoothing the motion since mechanical systems don't have the ability to accelerate & jerk as fast as biological systems. Cheap mocap animation has the same problem because the frame rate of the capture system is too low. They interpolate between captured keyframes which results in the wrong velocities in the end.
Agree that if anyone except BD put out this video I’d bin it as fake immediately. I still have a hard time saying I believe it - it feels like such a jump from where my mental model of their robots was and CGI is so good at this point that it feels easier for this to be a fake than real.
Same, and I've been working with some of the latest and greatest collaborative and industrial six-axis and SCARA robots. There's definitely a back and forth between innovation and legacy in this industry. For example, FANUC famously refuses to deprecate or drop service for any of its equipment, you'll pay through the nose for some of it but they're willing to keep you supplied with parts, service, and bug fixes for 40-year-old equipment if you've got it. Also, a lot of it is clearly designed for "what's the most we can get an average maintenance tech to understand after a 40-hour certification class", not for programmers and engineers. But with a demo like this, it's obvious that BD is working on a level that the industrial automation competition won't reach for decades.
Please tell me you have a blog
I don't, but I do have a domain that's sitting idle except for a mail server. Maybe a blog could be a theme for 2021...
It might help to compare against video with less editing and effects. Several youtubers are playing with Spots and you can get a better idea of what they're really like.

Adam Savage:

Marques Brownlee:

(A Spot, for those—like me—who didn't know, is the yellow 4-legged robot.)
It does, but counterpoint: unassisted (no help balancing) bipedal motion has been a holy grail for a looong time, where 4-legged is child's play by comparison. This could mean that just the bipedals are faked.

It would help a lot more to compare footage with real-world people interacting with the bipedal robot.

>It would help a lot more to compare footage with real-world people interacting with the bipedal robot.

Maybe I misunderstood your comment but there are definitely videos of people interacting with Atlas (the bipedal robot) to the point that it's a running joke that they'll remember said interactions. See

They're only like what they're "really like" because in those videos they're being operated from behind a layer of abstraction that only allows a few really basic movement patterns (go X direction, at Y speed, within allowed parameters).

I think this new video is trying to illustrate more of the highly dynamic capabilities of the machines that can be used by more specialized operators and software. (And I don't think there are any "effects" exaggerating those capabilities like you're implying, unless you mean things like color correction or the occasional cut to another piece of footage).

I had the same feeling, and I assume they evoked this feeling intentionally trough the lighting, camera movement, etc...
I felt the same way, but I think it might be because of the context that we're used to seeing advanced robots. Currently, that context is video games and movies, where we know they're fake. In a sense, we're conditioned to see this kind of tech and expect that it is done with CGI, so it makes unbelievable when we see it done for real.
That's why Boston Dynamics should put on a live show.

Cirque du Robots

sound would help, and maybe someone can dig up the real audio version if it is available. because hearing those engines roar and servos buzz, you appreciate there is indeed more going on than meets the eye
> aggressively smoothing the motion since mechanical systems don't have the ability to accelerate & jerk as fast as biological systems

I wondered if they covered the bots in a flowing dress if it would sell the illusion even more.

You might be interested in a couple of videos by an indie vfx group called Corridor

Mandatory XKCD reference:
I would go further than that and say that it's obviously CGI, though I don't know if that actually means it is CGI - it could be, as you mentioned, some sort of post-processing. Or maybe it's greenscreened and composited together?

More than the smoothness, there just seems to be something off about the weight and momentum that you tend to see in high-end, big-budget-movie CGI, but it's hard to put a definite finger on it.

I think it's clearly recorded in-camera, and I think real camera footage - the reflections in the (plexi?)glass screens show the robots and people holding cameras. I'm not even seeing any obvious indications it's been denoised.

As someone who works in the VFX industry, faking reflections on wobbling/flexing glass screens (static ones are easy) is actually pretty difficult to do right, and I doubt they would have added the camera operators if they were faking it.

Some of the aspects making people think this is CG are the diffuse lighting (no obvious hard shadows or occlusion), very clean robots, "weird" (i.e. not normal, but I believe it's honest for the robots) motion, and lack of sound.

I think what happened is they used a fancy camera with a big lens and a 30 FPS frame rate, giving a very high quality image reminiscent of Hollywood films, but they set a faster shutter speed than Hollywood generally uses, giving less motion blur than is normal in high quality footage like this. The relative lack of motion blur despite the low frame rate gives it a jerky appearance similar to sped up or timelapse video, or animation. Combined with the slightly odd motion of the robots, it has an uncanny look.

It's kinda funny because most robot demo videos are sped up and/or CGI, but this one isn't.

You can see the vibrations of the plexiglass walls and the camera crew reflected in them vibrating in amazing detail. You can also see people walking around in the background in normal speed. It doesn't look like it's accelerated, or I would say no more than 10%. Also given the visible but subtle marks the robots leave on the mat, this is either next level CGI and compositing or next level robotics, and BD are not a next level CGI company.
I think it's absolutely fascinating that so many people, here and especially in the YouTube comments, are thinking this is CGI, when doing this with CGI would be much harder than doing it for real.

Also, if you've followed Boston Dynamics for a while, what this video is showcasing isn't that much of a leap forward, they're just iterating away on their robots, adding capabilities and movement patterns.

I'm inclined to agree with this after bumping the video up to max quality. I do believe that this is real, and you can see from 0:51-1:05 that there's some reflections going on that would be a lot trickier to fake. But this footage has a similar quality to what I see in a lot of heavily processed drone footage, where it just doesn't look like the same way I see the world.
If you look carefully, you can also see reflections on the robot's visors.
Also watch their feet very closely at max resolution.

There's a lot of shock rattling and wobbling I've never seen in any CGI robot animation, not to mention they are leaving visible indentations in the foam floor. If it was CG they really went all out.

Change playback speed to 50% and it looks more realistic. That's probably realtime and they sped up the video.
A simple test shows this isn't more realistic. Gravity during the jumps are off, and people walking upstairs is odd. It looks like it was filmed in realtime.
75% looks most similar to the previous Atlas videos. Also the movement of the people upstairs behind the glass or the reflections of the cameraman confirm that it has been sped up.
I don't know how fast you walk, but at 75% those people are definitely in slow-motion. I could see maybe 90%, but 100% looks completely natural to me as far as their movements are concerned. (Personally, I want to see a jump at 90% to judge, not someone walking.)
I don't know... watch the people walking in around 1:00 in the top left. Looks pretty much real time.

There's a similar effect in old movies when a super-strong character picks up a massive boulder that is actually made of styrofoam or something. You can tell that the mass is wrong based on the way it moves.

I think this is a similar effect but in reverse -- we know the limbs are heavy and aren't made of styrofoam, so the fact that they are moving like they are is uncanny. Our brains aren't used to motorized and hydraulic limbs.

You can get a little bit of this effect watching assembly line arms sometimes, but it's less jarring because they are clearly disembodied, whereas this thing is fairly humanoid.

I see this frequently even in newer movies/tv--when actors are drinking out of empty coffee cups.
That's a great example. I wonder how much of that is due to the (lack of) the weight of the coffee, vs. not having to compensate for sloshing liquid that could spill if you aren't careful.
Could it be slightly sped up? The robots do make jumps so one could calculate it from that.
At 0:57 the camera pans to a position where you can see people on the upper floor walking by in the distance. You can see them move as the robot dance, which shows the video is not sped up. You could claim they were composited in (a suicidal move for BD, if they ever tried that), but if you look closely at the windows below, you can see the the camera crew in the reflection, who also move at the correct pace - and that shot would've been hell of a work to fake. In conclusion: this is real-time.
I was curious so I just timed the jump at the beginning of the song about 15 seconds in.

Assuming the jump is about 30cm, and I stopwatched it at 0.3 seconds from the apex to the ground, you arrive at an acceleration of 9.6m/s^2 which is basically spot on the acceleration due to gravity.

Or even in modern movies with CGI-enhanced characters.

Gollum moves as if his enormous head was empty, because the actor doing the motion capture didn't wear a heavy helmet.

In "Rust and Bones", Marion Cotillard plays a character that loses her legs after an accident, and she has her legs removed by CGI, but there are scenes where she's carried by Matthias Schoenaerts that look unnatural, out of balance.

> The animations look so fake.

Let’s talk about why it looks fake.

I think it comes from the use of hydraulics. Biological muscle is way less linear (it works more like a second-order control system, where things often overshoot their target before dampening).

But one part of it may also be algorithmic: the robot’s Kalman filter (?) may correct for errors from sensor fusion much faster than a human would.

I would love a more informed opinion than mine though.

It can't just be hydraulics though, because to me the most telling moments that look fake are when the robots are jumping - they have too much hang time/too much uniform velocity for the relatively small amount of vertical distance they get. In particular, see the initial jump at 15 secs in the video. It's like the robot is floating instead of jumping.
They must be heavy, which helps with fluid motion
I had that same distinct impression about the jump at :15 the first time I watched, but watching it again i don’t. I think it has something to do with the leg motion while airborne. If you just focus on the torso it seems normal.
To me it looks like claymation. But of course I can't really explain what it means for something to "look like claymation" to me. Is it that the movement is too isolated? Not isolated enough? Both of those things at the same time in different ways?
Subliminally jerky - you can’t directly perceive it but you are aware of it.
"Subliminally jerky" - When you're certain it's dehydrated meat, but you don't know why.
I agree but I chalked that up to motion of extremely rigid bodies under large torque.

Watch the reflections on the plexiglass while they are moving. Obviously they could have been composited in but there's definitely a live portion of the shot.

It looks like 'fake' and animation because it _is_ an animation. The dancing was likely motion captured and/or hand animated and superimposed onto the robots basic balancing control system.
> onto the robots basic balancing control system.

I don't think "basic" is the right word.

I'm not sure what you are saying here. I think the intent is to differentiate between the "optimal" robotic control dynamics which is designed for safety, efficiency, and to respond to unexpected situations and "dancing" which is intended to either mimic human motion or some anthropomorphic version of it.

So it is "animation" of a physical sort designed to make it look like the robots are responding to the music naturally, rather than programmatically.

I think it looks fake because the movements are so smooth and fluid.

On a dancing person you see all the slight adjustments to keep balance that make it feel natural, I believe these robots do it too fast for us to notice and so it seems like CGI where keeping balance isn't a thing.

I'm looking at the jump at 2:09, and all I'm seeing is a super wobbly robot trying very hard to keep its balance?

Look at the pelvis movements at 1:15 to 1:25! You can clearly see it jerking around so the robot keeps its balance.

None of those movements are smooth or fluid, it's all jerky jittery and unnatural, which is exactly what you'd expect from actual robots. If it was motion-capture, you wouldn't get those movements, you'd get smooth human movements instead?

I'm so fascinated by how this video triggers people's "it's fake!" senses, when it's clearly real.

Hydraulics make robot motion look fake? Have you watched real robots move before? I've never once watched a robot move and thought to myself "that looks fake".

This is how the robot moves IN REALITY:

It can look real with hydraulics, but it can look fake.

In that video you linked, look at second 21/22, when it raises the arms in the air: the way the arms stop instantly is very inhuman.

Oh, man. Hard to watch the sequence starting at 1:56 without wondering when the robot is gonna take that guy's hockey stick and beat him to death with it. Do you want a robot uprising? Because this is how you get a robot uprising.
For me, the front toe taps are especially fake-looking. It’s hard to pin down exactly without going frame by frame, but to me it feels like it‘s a combination of the lighting and the way the foot “rests” on the floor (which should probably be deforming since it looks like dense foam?)

Almost as though they had to edit out some balance-assisting device.

Also: why are the people at the right speed, but it feels like the robots are sped up? Them being sped up would be fine, but if the two are at different speeds then it’s a clear indicator that it’s composited.

This video has very little motion blur compared to what you normally see in high quality 4K 24/30 FPS footage (e.g. Hollywood movies). That contributes to the uncanny look, giving it an "animated" or "sped up" feel. Which is funny because most robot demo videos are sped up, but not this one.
Lots of commments on military applications, but bipedal robots are inferior to wheel vehicles, planes, and aerial drones, in terms of speed and maneuverability.

Everyone's so afraid of Terminators hunting them down, when in reality, mostly invisible , and mostly silent, Predator drones from a mile away that will kill you with precisely targeted missiles should be your real fear. Or commercial quad-copters carrying anti-personnel mines.

The expense, complexity, power, etc to build bipedal assassins is higher than wheeled RC vehicles, quad copters, and missiles.

The weapons that exist today are much more scary than these robots.

Not to mention the fact that you can hear them from a mile away - there's a reason all ambient noise was replaced with the music ;)
A swarm of these can fan out over a house and target very specifically anyone hiding there. Without killing the human shields.
Not unless they can make them significantly quieter. What you don't hear under the music in that video is the robot making an awful lot of noise just moving around. The hostage-takers in your scenario will hear them a mile away.
Well, then they’ll have 1 mile walking time to surrender.
I know many have seen this, but for those who haven't:


Given the context of OP I was genuinely initially fooled, though the audience reaction and visual effects gave it away. Truly chilling stuff.
Legs seem so inefficient. It was only when that weird looking robot on wheels - moving strangely and "gracefully" - entered the video that I thought "Oh shit, that's the guy to watch out for."
I mentally added everything you said with "...for now."
IIRC the humanoid Terminators in the movie are infiltrator units. Skynet will definitely have more conventional aircrafts and wheeled vehicles to hunt us down.
The conventional aircraft were shown in several Terminator movies, and look like a large drone with two large forward fans and two small rear fans.

Similarly, Terminator 2 showed large tracked vehicles.

It’s called the HK (hunter/killer).
As someone who worked in robotics at CMU in the mid 80s with Whittaker, & Raibert, and Crowley this was definitely super exciting to watch. You've come a long way baby. I remember watching you great, great grandfather hopping around in Raibert's lab in 1984. Yeah, and sort of scary.
Really scary. Whenever I see the latest Boston Dynamics video, I’m always thinking ‘and now imagine it’s hunting you’.
Watch Black Mirror episode called Metalhead.
One of the best episodes!

It’s like a totally different series to that last season with vr-gay/not-gay falcon man and Miley Cyrus signing a bad NiN cover.

But yea. The mean robot dogs, just good short form story telling with so little dialog.

That was my first thoughts watching this video "Shit, these things are going to be on the battle field any day now".

I mean, I guess better a robot than a person.. but still.. pretty terrifying to think we are soon to have people hunting robots.

> pretty terrifying to think we are soon to have people hunting robots

for the robots, maybe

Animal traffic is a lucrative and it seems as illegal as unstoppable. My bet is that if this robots will deploy in a signifiant number, the people soon will realize that can make a life if they trap, club and dismantle expensive robots for selling metal parts and any valuable cargo that they would carry. Will be also illegal but some will try anyways. Anything electric can be insta-fried with a higher voltage or, more slowly, with a cheap molotov cocktail. Not much different than hunting a bear or deer, maybe more profitable.

Meh. If someone wants to "hunt" you with a robot they can already do so with a UAV (think MQ-1 Predator, not an off-the-shelf quadrocopter). It is an already existing true and tested technology. Large governments around the world already maintain literal armies to maintain them and efficiently employ them to kill people. The fact that that weapon is not aimed at you or me is merely a political decision. With legged robots a lot more development is needed before they can do the same. I guess what I want to say: These robots are not deadly yet. The kind of people who can turn them deadly can already kill you if they want. I don't see why you should worry marginally more.
Bombs cause infinitely bigger international uproars for good reasons.

Robot assassins that cannot die change the calculus. Governments don't have to risk losing their human assets in order to take out a target. They can just send out a 4-legged drone to prick them with polonium and call it a day.

Or nuclear bomb, you know.
Too messy. Bad press. State actors would also break some sort of treaty without plausible deniability.
Which means that governments start making robots that can defend people.
A robot like the one in the video seems like it could make a decent enforcer though.

It has the benefit of being in your face and we having been trained by movies and games that robots that look like that are enemies.

If someone with the resources to hunt me with a robot wants me dead I’m sure they could also afford some terrifying merc to do it too.
I agree those robots are both exciting and scary. After I graduated from Princeton (doing cognitive science related to AI and robotics), I hung around the CMU Robotics labs in 1985-1986 -- mostly as a visitor to Hans Moravec's and Red Whittaker's labs. But I also dropped by other labs, including to learn from Ben Brown, who was an awesome mechanical engineer in Raibert's Leg Lab. Raibert's team had done amazing stuff with the first hopping robot and was then getting going with a first bipedal one.

James Crowley had recently left, so sadly I never got to meet him. I think I would have liked him and vice versa, having probably similar interests in personally-assistive household companion robots -- like Silent Running drones. When I was between two housing rentals that did not quite overlap, I slept one night on the floor of his mostly-emptied Household Robots lab next to a running PERQ computer to keep warm (from the cold air conditioning). The crazy things you do when you are twenty... :-)

It was kind of sad for me (for a couple of reasons) to see Raibert's dynamic robots immobile in the MIT museum when I visited there with my kid a few years ago. But I can be glad those robots got a good home there and the recognition they deserved -- rather than, say, be discarded for scrap like the 1942 Atanasoff-Berry computer at Iowa State (since thankfully reconstructed).

CMU's Robotics Institute was heavily supported by defense dollars back then -- even as at least some (or maybe even all?) robotics researchers there then thought giving robots guns was a dumb idea. There were also researchers -- especially in Hans' lab -- who thought robots would and even should surpass humanity as "Mind Children". But I wondered if even that positive aspiration would really work out as well as some hoped. Since then, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the future of robotics and humanity, and how to get more benefits than harms from robotics. It probably would not take much more than a dumb-ish self-replicating anti-personnel robotic cockroaches to wipe out humanity. (Or even smaller self-replicating things like infectious bioweapons...) And even the smartest AIs like in James P. Hogan's "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" novel might wipe out humanity first in their infancy and then perhaps only later regret it. And if robots and AIs are designed mainly by competitive people to give themselves (or their funders) competitive advantages over other people -- whether for military or business reasons -- bad outcomes seem more likely than if other motives guide their creation.

Even as there is no certainty even given the best intentions, as I saw from a simulation I made a couple years later on a Symbolics in ZetaLisp of self-replicating robotics -- who unintendedly turned cannibalistic during the first simulation run (eating their own children). I had only programmed them to simply assemble themselves to an ideal form from nearby parts and then divide. But after they divided, the most convenient source of spare parts was their offspring. I ultimately had to add a sense of "smell" and scent marking of self/child to avoid that. That unexpected total surprise of the (simulated) robots initial behavior -- obvious now in hindsight -- has stuck in my mind every since.

Although, even as I called the fix "smell", perhaps one might think of it as "love"? :-) Related: "Straight Up -- by Paula Abdul" "I've been a fool before / Wouldn't like to get my love caught in the slammin' door / How about some information, please? / ... Do, do you love me? ..."

In any case, it seems plausible that our direction heading out of any Singularity may have a lot to do with our social direction/maturity going into one. Acting positively and pro-actively may be the best hope we have -- and that means we need to emphasize social wisdom ASAP (whether a UBI or whatever other compassionate initiatives). The result of decades of thinking since then is summarized in my email sig: "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity."

Or in more detail, essentially we need to move away from a model of unilateral domineering security to one of mutual intrinsic security, as I explain here: "Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism" "... There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all. ..."

> It was kind of sad for me (for a couple of reasons) to see Raibert's dynamic robots immobile

This hit a nerve. I was at a CMU event with my daughter a few years back - when she was a member of Girls of Steel. My daughter came and told me excitedly that "my robot was here" and brought me over to where the Terregator was on display. I told the roboticist who was there how exciting it was to see it after thirty years, and that it was wonderful to see that it still worked. He said, "Sorry. Actually it's likely not operating two decade. It was placed here with a fork lift."

Thanks for the reply. The Terregator was historic in its own way -- as perhaps the first robust outdoors-oriented general-purpose wheeled flexible mobile testbed with an AC gasoline-powered generator capable of supporting a significant computer with an onboard interactive terminal. I remember walking behind the Terregator with Red's brother Chuck and others in Schenley park as people tested road-following (well, park-path-following) algorithms. It was cool to see on the terminal display what the robot thought it was seeing in real-time. And it was nice to be outside in good weather. If you made that or worked on it, kudos to you! Terregator was a key innovative step forward as a platform that made possible other follow-on work like for Alvan (all leading up to self-driving cars). Well, when it wasn't trying to drive up trees -- which is what an emergency stop is for. :-)

But yeah to learn it was fork-lifted into place, sigh. I also have my own personal (essentially now non-functional) robotics projects from back then and before squirreled away in a storage area, with bittersweet feelings as I look at them now and then in passing when looking for other things.

Somehow I wonder if -- beside the general issue of becoming middle aged and wistfully looking backwards at past artifacts and past times -- if there is perhaps a certain disappointment that robots today are not that much better in the main that back in the 1980s? Even the video from Boston Dynamics for all its awesomeness doesn't actually show legged robots doing anything useful. We still don't have robots as capable or general purpose as B9 from Lost in Space or the walking drones from Silent Running appeared to be when on the screen (even if in real life they were human-operated fakes). Show me Spot folding laundry (like WG's PR2 could do, if slowly) and I might be more impressed.

Robotics was also so expensive to work on in the 1980s -- plus also the AI winter happened -- which all probably contributed to many people with robotics aspirations (like me, especially to do stuff like this: ) instead moving into software-only work, working on programs generally about other things than robots.

Robotics is such a different space today though for a new generation with cheap sensors, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, reliable WiFi, cheap laptops, cheap platforms, disused old Roombas, and so on... I remember in the 1980s how excited Hans Moravec was of the special (and expensive) "Swedish wheels" he had gotten for a new robot being built (Uranus, an unfortunate name for anything, sadly) which provided sideways mobility without computational complexity -- and now I see those wheels on robot toys.

It's kind of surprising though when I think about that how relatively little progress towards useful activities there has been by hobbyists and even professionals given all that personally affordable potential compared to what one might have expected in the 1980s if we has just had more cheap hardware? Still there is FarmBot, ShopBot, 3D printing, cheaper CNC machines, flying inspection drones, robotic surgical systems, easily configurable commercial vision systems for parts inspection, and probably many other useful things. Even somewhat-self-driving cars that don't kill that many people. But somehow I might have expected more a third of a century later?

To be clear, I am talking about crossing some gap between playing with or learning about mechanisms (like FIRST robotics or Girls of Steel, which seem like genuinely useful educational programs) and actually creating something useful and reliable day-in-day out like a dishwasher, or robot vacuum that deals with pet hair, or window curtain closer, or plant waterer, or robot chef, or reliable Lego sorter or whatever. Or ideally one device that can do all of those things.

Willow Garage was a promising (if pricey, with PR2) endeavor in that direction. Sad that it got disbanded. The open source aspect (including ROS) though was another innovation that was good to see.

Perhaps like it has been said that AI is that which computers can't do reliably yet (e.g. winning at chess is not longer considered AI the way it was in the 1980s at CMU with Hans Berliner), maybe robotics is that which mechanisms can't do reliably yet? :-) So maybe the vacuuming and mopping robots we have at home don't emotionally seem to count as robotics? And neither does Subaru's EyeSight emergency braking or similar driver assistance technology of other car makers?

Or maybe there is some robotics equivalent of Moravec's observation that decade after decade of researchers from the 1950s on through the 1990s were stuck at 1 MIPS as budgets kept decreasing and researchers kept increasing -- until eventually researchers could move beyond 1 MIPS when hardware crossed some price/performance threshold?

Or perhaps that is an example of Roy Amara's law that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Maybe we are on the cusp of hobbyist and university lab breakthroughs driven by falling costs opening things up to more tinkering?

The bottom line for flexible robots with manipulators is they seem to require force-torque sensors and touch sensors and flexible vision processing (with high CPU requirements). Demos of advanced manipulators like a "High-Speed Robot Hand" by Ishikawa Oku from The University of Tokyo aside, or the promising Baxter by Rethink Robotics aside (now defunct, sadly), it sees like robots with flexible manipulators are still not quite there yet -- even if Boston Dynamics and even Tesla show that computer-controlled mobility by itself is increasingly essentially a solved problem (assuming batteries continue to improve).

Or maybe I am just so far out of the robotics loop as this point that I have not heard of more amazing stuff going on for manipulation and vision? Even though I see new things now and then, the last time I looked around a lot at robotics progress was perhaps ten years ago, when I was working on this essay: "This article explores the issue of a "Jobless Recovery" mainly from a heterodox economic perspective. It emphasizes the implications of ideas by Marshall Brain and others that improvements in robotics, automation, design, and voluntary social networks are fundamentally changing the structure of the economic landscape. It outlines towards the end four major alternatives to mainstream economic practice (a basic income, a gift economy, stronger local subsistence economies, and resource-based planning). These alternatives could be used in combination to address what, even as far back as 1964, has been described as a breaking "income-through-jobs link". This link between jobs and income is breaking because of the declining value of most paid human labor relative to capital investments in automation and better design. Or, as is now the case, the value of paid human labor like at some newspapers or universities is also declining relative to the output of voluntary social networks such as for digital content production (like represented by this document). It is suggested that we will need to fundamentally reevaluate our economic theories and practices to adjust to these new realities emerging from exponential trends in technology and society."

Or maybe, as with Moravec's paradox of higher-level thinking requiring less computation than low-level hand-eye coordination, maybe some key aspects of robotics like object manipulation in unstructured environments remain hard problems?

Of course I remember Chuck :)

BD is taking baby steps (sorry) towards the consumer market, and that's one reason that I'm rooting for them.

Economic theory may need time to catch up. I have some theories of my own. Let's talk. ShufflePoint.

Thanks; that might be fun. You can also email me at the same userid at

For reference (nothing new for you, but others may find of interest) I just found a writeup on the Terregator where the document was started by others in 1984 but finished by Kevin Dowling years later:

Looking at that sparks some more thoughts...

Kevin himself demonstrates an interesting example of robotics as a career path. He was the first CMU Robotics Institute employee -- but ultimately left to work for a LED lighting company, then on to wearable sensors, and now on to 3D scanning:

I was very surprised to learn Kevin was leaving CMU RI for the LED lighting company -- given his commitment to robotics for so long. But, aside from interests perhaps changing over time, perhaps it's an example of people in robotics starting out trying to solve some big complex integrated thing of a general-purpose robot (e.g. Uranus, Terregator, Alvan, etc.) and then ending up focusing on various related details (solid-state electronics and sensors for Kevin; simulations and UI software for me).

And of course Mark Raibert's lab at CMU, then MIT, then BD, has (for decades) focused on improving walking. Walking was an area in which incremental progress could be made in contrast to more complex navigation tasks and manipulation tasks that may have seemed intractable in practice (especially in the 1980s). It's not clear to me though how much special insight BD might have into the larger unstructured navigation issue though.

Yet, as every piece of individual robotics technology gets refined by someone, whether walking, 3D scanning, image recognition, reliable mobile power sources, touch sensors, terrain mapping, and so on, we do get closer to someone putting all those things together again in a way we might have imagined in the 1980s but were always disappointed by each component's limitations. Essentially, BD's progress is necessary in terms of removing another excuse for not having amazing robots (i.e. walking is hard, but BD solved it) -- but by itself that is not sufficient to deliver the robots imagined in sci-fi stories (assuming we really still want them).

I can also guess there may have been a lot of falls edited out of that video? :-) For reference, a section of a larger video showing lots of falling walking robots:

Having linked to that collection of robot falls, I still feel it is at most a matter of time before all sorts of walking robots (and manipulating robots) can reliably do much better in unstructured environments. It's hard to predict exactly how long though -- whether years or decades. I should have been clearer in my previous post that while computer-controlled mobility is increasingly a solved problem like the BD video shows, using mobility effectively when navigating unstructured environments remains an open issue (similar as for manipulating in unstructured environments remains open). That may sound like a subtle distinction perhaps, but in the 1980s (as you undoubtedly know from first hand experience) just getting a computer to control a big motor reliably was a big deal.

As with your point on baby steps, another example is there are now about 200,000 Kiva robots in Amazon warehouses (somewhat structured environments) where automation makes a big difference in reducing costs -- even if the "robots" are not humanoid in form and not general purpose in function.

Coincidentally, I currently work on a robotics project -- a gene sequencer -- but I rarely think of it as doing "robotics". That is mostly because the robot itself is essentially an off-the-shelf commercialized device integrated into a larger unit with lots of other specialized hardware (and it is the specialized hardware including custom chips and related reagents and laser beams that are the star of the show). I myself generally just work on UI stuff that essentially forms an ecosystem that surrounds that device. I don't usually work on software running on the device itself -- which others do, who I sometimes envy. :-) And then I think of all the headaches involved in making robotics work reliably, and I am glad again to only have to wrestle with JavaScript-related technical quirks. :-) Ideally, the customer never has to think about the robot. They can't even see the robot when the device is closed and in operation. Ultimately, the customer doesn't even really care that there is a robot in the big box they bought -- they want to see results (even if the robot is essential right now to delivering the results).

Maybe like with all technology, as in Heinlein's "Rolling Stones" novel's discussion of advanced in propulsion from complex IC engine to simpler nuclear rocket, one can wonder how any system using a robot might be simplified to remove the robot entirely to reduce costs and increase reliability. For example, one could make a robot that washes dishes like a human does, picking up one at a time and rinsing it under a faucet and drying it with a towel -- but using a special-purpose dishwasher is overall more effective and energy efficient. However, someone still needs to load the dishwasher and put the plates away in a cabinet, but that usually does not take much time or trouble. And maybe that is an aspect of robotics in general as a field -- that when we set out towards some goal involving figuring out clever ways to deliver the results that currently involve human-like motions (walking, carrying, stacking, looking, etc.), often we eventually achieve the same results or better in different specialized ways. So, "mechanism" advances, even if anthromorphic "robots" get eventually bypassed. The value becomes in creating mechanisms to do thing that humans can't do easily or enjoyably or reliably or profitably. The 1956 Theodore Sturgeon story "The Skills of Xanadu" has a spin on that, where "work" is made into play using nanotech and networks and mobile computing.

For another example, any modern car is essentially a robot full of computers and sensors and actuators -- but it does not look or work like a human or other organic creature. We don't usually say 2020s car mechanics are "robot technicians" even though that really is what they are by 1980s standards of the ancestral Terregator. That is because the "robotics" aspect of cars has disappeared into the background culturally through incremental progress.

And even designwise, there are also no direct "horse" components in a Tesla electric car, but a Tesla still delivers similar (or better) results in most ways to the horse-drawn carriage which was its ancestor (or human-drawn carriage for rickshaws). Although, "better" perhaps ignores that horses were self-replicating, horses had more "horse sense" about navigating unstructured environments to bring home drunks, horse carts could be refueled anywhere there was grass, horse hooves and wide horse-cart wheels could handle rougher terrain than many cars, and so on (objectives still remaining for advanced robotics). So, some things also got lost along the way amidst other advantages (like not needing to deal with horse manure or abandoned dead horses in cities, which used to be a tremendous problem).

So, two steps forward but one step back as so often with technology. Let's just hope overall technology is not two steps forward and two steps back though (at the risk of quoting another Paula Abduhl song). Or worse, two steps forward and three steps back. See the book "Retrotopia" for thoughts on technical advances taken together sometimes leading to more problems then they solve.

When electric motors were new, a home might have one that multiple devices could be connected to. Now most people would have a hard time saying how many electric motors (or other actuators) are in their home (e.g. in the microwave, in the dishwasher, in the CD player, etc). The same is happening with computers and sensors as they become embedded in so many devices. Robotics in that sense is perhaps increasingly all around us -- even as we notice it less and less?

Economically, making better special-purpose tools (like a dishwasher) is not that threatening to the income-through-jobs link on which our current economy rests for distributing purchasing power (like discussed in "The Triple Revolution Memorandum" from 1964). That is because humans are still needed in the loop somewhere. In contrast, general purpose robots (and especially general purpose AI) and related larger systems will stretch that link much more to the breaking point. So the broader question is how (or if?) we (who?) want to structure our technosphere and economics so it remains (non-cyborged-)human-compatible...

Here is my own dystopian/utopian commentary on that from 2010 involving robots inspired by Marshall Brain's "Manna": :-) "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income"

Alternative version: I remember watching your great grandmother's legs cavorting around in Herbie Hancock's "Rock It" video ... in 1984.

Ah, thanks for sharing the song. Haven't heard it in a while. I was listening to Chick Corea's 80s material earlier today though. That era had a lot of cheesy sounding jazz fusion that I can't get enough of!
I'm mostly a rock and roll and metal head, but I listened to a lot of Chick Corea in the 80's, like the Where Have I Known You Before album from his Return to Forever band.

These days, I use a Canadian streaming service called Stingray Music. There, I just discovered a channel called "For the fans of Weather Report". It streams all that sort of stuff nonstop. Mahavishnu, Hancock, ...

Nice. Weather Report is great (Jaco!), and Zawinul's other band too, Syndicate.

I'm happy John Mclaughlin is still playing. Here's a song from a couple weeks ago you might like!

So what's the main barrier to using these industrially?

Is it reliability? Did this video a zillion takes?

Is it manufacturing? Maybe it's hard to scale them up?

Is it battery life? Maybe it can power itself for just a few minutes?

Is it object manipulation or sensing/world understanding? Maybe it can't apply the right forces to a soft thing or a flexible thing or know what it can step on vs over or what will move or stay still?

Is it just that anything worth automating is worth specializing, and there are better robots for different specific tasks?

We've seen industrial robots for a while now, and these more general robots have gotten really good, so where are they?

> So what's the main barrier to using these industrially?

In an industrial setting, a purpose-built robot will outdo these robots, or a human, at nearly all tasks. And whatever these things are doing, likely a human can do it better with a little bit of training- that's low capital cost compared to these robots.

Carrying things around? Conveyor belts. Picking things up? Robot arms. Going up and down stairs? Elevators and/or conveyor belts. If your aim is to make money, a general purpose robot is rarely the best choice.

The only real purpose I can see for these things is being able to travel quickly in rough terrain. Military applications, basically. Just picture a small army of these robots, armed with tasers, chasing you through the woods. While dancing.

And a new edition of robot wars. We deserve to see the human-like robots doing realistic sword fights.
Game of Drones?
I can imagine one of these hopping out the back of the self driving Amazon van to drop my parcel off when the price makes sense.
> The only real purpose I can see for these things is being able to travel quickly in rough terrain

This reminds me of the (alleged) Tom Watson quote: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

These robots will be everywhere in twenty years. The cost and the software aren't there yet, but it's only a matter of time. Flexibility and time to market will beat purpose-built robots in many cases once the cost comes down. Many purpose-built factories will disappear. Local, distributed generalist factories will spring up, staffed by robots. Drones and autonomous vehicles will deliver "hand-crafted" products directly to customers.

With autonomous vehicles poised to replace the most common job in the majority of U.S. states -- truck driver -- we're on the verge of massive systemic changes. That's at best. At worst, with economic and political tensions already high, we'll get violence and bloodshed on a global scale.

> These robots will be everywhere in twenty years.

Doing what? What can a generalist robot do that a task specific robot can't do better, faster, and cheaper?

I'll be happy to be wrong- they're really neat- but I spent 7 years in the Operations tech division at Amazon, working in warehouses especially, and I don't see any need for these robots vs alternative options.

> What can a generalist robot do that a task specific robot can't do better, faster, and cheaper?

Nothing. And everything.

Nothing, because no matter what task the generalist robot is assigned to, it'll always be theoretically possible to design a custom-built specialist robot that's better at that one task.

Everything, because no matter how much better your sock-drawer-organizing robot is at organizing socks, it'll never be able fold my clothes or make my bed or clean my windows like the generalist robot can. I'm not going to purchase thousands of different robots for thousands of different tasks when I can just buy one that will do all of them.

Also, while human labor is cheap and energy-efficient it's not ok to have slaves anymore, so multi-purpose robots will surely have niches to fill.
> This reminds me of the (alleged) Tom Watson quote: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." These robots will be everywhere in twenty years. The cost and the software aren't there yet, but it's only a matter of time.

Hitting the nail on the head here. I've been following Boston Dynamics for the past 10 years and it's just amazing the progress they've made and it's going to get augmented massively with better battery technology and ML/AI. No doubt in my mind these types of robots will be everywhere in 20 years as you say.

"it's going to get augmented massively with better battery technology and ML/AI."

Boston Dynamics do not and will not use ML/AI in any of their robots.

Perhaps they (or Hyundai) won't, but someone else for sure will.
A human in India or China can be had for a couple of hundred dollars a month. These robots probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy and maintain. And they aren’t as adaptable.
But a guy in India can’t deliver your parcel in Santa Cruz.
I don’t think this is it. US farming is vastly more productive than in India or China. It has less to do with the cost of labor but the nature of labor, ie these robots don’t have a niche.
Now teach that human weapon control, tactics, chain of command. Make sure he is healthy, strong and has high endurance. 1-2 years should do it.
$35 a month, according to buzzfeed
as low as $6.79 /month according to Wistron and Apple
> Is it object manipulation or sensing/world understanding? Maybe it can't apply the right forces to a soft thing or a flexible thing or know what it can step on vs over or what will move or stay still?

Did you notice the robot's hands? Or, you know, lack thereof?

These robots are impressive, amazing and advanced ... but they are demonstrating mobility, not utility.

If you want your robot to really replace people, it needs amazing hands. Also amazing visual processing, but there's a lot of work being done there by the autonomous vehicle people, and I'm not sure who is currently leading the pack on hands.

Lots of interesting answers to your question, but if I may present another:

There is none.

These robots are currently in use screening COVID patients, assessing parts of the Chernobyl plant and working in warehouses. Those are just the applications that I know of.

I think the "barrier to industrial use" was simply that Boston Dynamics wanted to ensure they had a fairly mature platform before scaling up to significant production.

> So what's the main barrier to using these industrially?

Battery technology.

> Did this video a zillion takes?

Definitely quite a lot - take a look at the floor underneath some of them, shiny patches worn out by constant beatings I guess.

as with many things, probably the cost
Repetitive physical tasks can usually be done with existing machinery and industrial robots. To do anything more complex than that, i.e. non-repetitive tasks, even if they could do it physically, they lack the required brain power. They don't follow verbal instructions except very basic ones.
Price. Only the price is the barrier. :) But it is getting better quickly as we speak. Spot is 7000 USD. This is cheap enough to be useful in many situations, but certainly not in your average storage facility.
Isn't the big wheeled robot used in some warehouses today? Maybe I just remember watching another BD marketing video about it...
Much harder to make the machine that makes the machine. Mass manufacturing these robots is probably unlikely at this time.
Entertainment, sport (remember the robocup?), and police of course
Is it cost? It's probably cost.
Is it cost?
Who needs dancing robots? What I mean this video does not show that useful work has been implemented. Probably flexibility of tasks might be a problem. Or there is no problem and we see rollout in the next few years.
It shows that they can fuse IMU and other sensor data and feed it to a trajectory-optimization system and get actuation torques meeting realtime contraints sufficiently quickly to not fall over. Bonus points for smooth motion.

Check out MIT’s Underactuated Robotics class taught by Tedrake. Spring 2018 is all on Youtube, I believe. A Raibert Hopper simulation is one of the first homework sets. Post a link to tbe video of your solution.

Yes, this is all well and good, but it is technology driven and not problem driven. If you want to make sales you need to address a need.
I'm not sure what you mean by "industrially".

In actual factories, which are highly controlled environments, the things called robots are much simpler and more specialized. So you're "Is it just that anything worth automating is worth specializing, and there are better robots for different specific tasks?" point is more or less it.

But also consider, while these bipedal, quadrupedal and wheeled robots can do all sorts of these in isolation, their ability to accomplish things autonomously in the chaotic, unstructured world outside the factory is little-to-none, accent on none. The Darpa Robitics challenge was essentially considered a failure, all entrant failed. Most could not do the "walk to a door and open it" challenge.

Similarly, Boston Dynamics sells their "big dog" walking robot to the military but it is seldom if ever deployed. It's strong and faster than a horse with basically the use case as a pack horse. But well trained pack horse won't injure if you get in front of it and will walk along with the troops on it's own without a guy with joy stick directing it. And the Big Dog needs constant direction.

Basically, robots don't have even the "animal intelligence" needed for real world activity.

Have they made a useful quiet version of Big Dog? I know that’s one reason it was initial not very pragmatic for the military
Big Dog was discontinued in 2015.

Until there's light weight batteries or fuel cells available, big, long-endurance robots like Big Dog just aren't practical (especially for military use).

> And the Big Dog needs constant direction.

And the Big Dog requires a lot of technical experts surrounding it at all times, an energy production system, and if it falls over or gets stuck it will be harder for one or two people to get it back to orientation.

I am a huge fan of spartan-like no-bullshit brutalist approach towards their marketing/PR:

  - No studio setup, just their lab
  - No artificial lighting
  - No fucks given about hiding the mess
  - Robots going through surgery in the background
  - Song is classy af IMO
  - Can see the camera man
  - Can see the engineers/employees
  - Framing/cinematography isn't as polished (this is a feature, not a bug)
  - Chipped paint, beaten up fairings
Generally, I love BD Branding/Marketing/PR:

  - Logo is on point. It's Da Vinci level stuff. Humanist 
    It is totally opposite of what they build, such an amazing contrast and deeply thought out [1]
  - One or two videos per year
  - No twitter drama like a lot of SV companies (Hey, Elon)
  - No excessive trying to get their word out. Their products speak for themselves
  - No purple/gradient bullshit and design trends
  - Their job descriptions actually make sense of what they need from you
  - Their CEO, Marc Raibert, exudes wisdom, calm and has a persona of composure (seriously, watch his interviews) [2]
  - No AI hype
Literally the opposite of Silicon Valley. May be I've had too much coffee and making lofty generalizations, but this is what I see! I also see the DNA of East coast/MIT/Boston rigor vs Silicon Valley cowboys - thoughts? :-) I live and work in SV btw.

I can't get over how amazing this video is. I hope it takes over the top spot on Youtube. It's got everything - music/tech/memes. The people behind BD marketing are geniuses IMO, although building an explosively-cool tech that appeals to all humans helps a lot. Outstanding.



It's a cool ad, but it doesn't seem to be "spartan / brutalist" marketing to me. The point of the ad is to show you how their technology makes robots dance. But, clearly their real product isn't just dancing robots. They put a lot of work into making this functionality, and all that work is just for marketing!

To me, a real spartan approach to marketing is spending very little money on marketing, and just focusing on your product. That seems like the opposite of what Boston Dynamic is doing, because they put so much work specifically into creating these PR/marketing videos. Many of their robot models don't seem to exist for actual products, they just exist for marketing.

I don’t think you properly understand “spartan”/ brutalist. The video is using the materials in their most outrageous but possible form to demonstrate their flexibility, and executed in an imposing way. How’s that not brutalist?
But so much of the video is unnecessary flourishes, lots of excessive effort put in to make it a cool video, rather than focusing on the robot itself. It seems more baroque than brutalist. I'm sure it's a matter of personal aesthetic judgment. But I would consider robot videos like this one to be "spartan":

Go 15-30 seconds in. The video is obviously just showing an industrial robot at work. They didn't build something fancy just to make a viral video. It's just focusing on the components of the robot that do something useful.

> Many of their robot models don't seem to exist for actual products, they just exist for marketing.

Wow :) I was under impression that, while Atlas is a flagship model with broad purposes, the other two are rather optimized transporting (and some other miscellaneous functions) robots, for specific applications.

Why do you think they couldn't find use as products?

I think most of their robots are more research than product, except maybe most recent models like spot. It's first and foremost an amazing engineering for the sake of engineering.
BD is basic research. Figuring out what can be done and what the potential applications are. I’m surprised BD has gone through so many sales. Whoever owns them in the end is going to make a ton of money I reckon.
In the case of BD, the question seems to be what exactly is the end. Making walking robots is an incredible feet of engineering but one that doesn't seem to solve an actual industrial problem.

For a lot of use, as a mean of locomotion, they are fighting not only tracks but also flying now that multicopters are ubiquitous. Is there still a market for them? Cool research anyway.

Robotics already has plenty of applications. Travelling over dangerous terrain for mapping, search and rescue, automation of manufacturing where dexterity is required, lifting and manoeuvring heavy loads. Those few applications alone covers a lot of industries.

But you might also learn about how to build prosthetics, augment human abilities with exoskeletons. Who knows.

These guys will figure out all the obvious stuff and perfect it. And then see how far they can push it.

One thing that's different is that BD doesn't have the pressure to sell to the masses, and they've been traded off from one giant to another (Google, Softbank and now Hyundai). I think they can afford to be spartan and truthful, I suspect a lot of big-corp marketing is based on metrics and data which drives you to doing unspartan things. My guess anyways, perhaps others can shed light.
It’s all very cool looking.

However when I watched this video my first thought was “my god they’re going to bring the drone wars to the ground.” I am a robotics engineer and have been focused on robotics my whole life. I worked at Google X on a robotics team with some great ex-Boston Dynamics people, and some of my friends have since gone to work for them.

So I do understand what they have achieved. It’s fantastic from a technological perspective. And I know they have non military funders now. There’s a great many labor applications for machines like this if they can sell them for under half a million dollars and get them to do real work. I understand all that.

But I fear that if the US military orders some, the company would happily oblige. Maybe they’ve committed to only peaceful non military use. But these extremely agile and capable machines to me seem like some military strategists dream come true. So when I watch all of this achievement from a company that for so long survived off of military funding, I am deeply saddened by the implications.

Delivery robots and warehouse workers would be great. But these seem like in ten or 20 years time they’ll be another extension of the US global killing machine. I dream of a world where we can use robotics to make the world better, and the potential military use here leaves me uneasy. I cannot celebrate what I fear will be the dawn of ever more inhuman military conflict.

I was under the impression that the military were the main funders and intended clients; the robo mule in particular for offloading some of the increasingly heavy tech and supplies for infantry.

What happens in 20+ years when surplus ones are handed out like MRAPs to careless police departments?

The military has been the main funder, but as of late they've been purchased by non-military groups and have suggested their products will have use in warehousing and package delivery. I am being optimistic to hope they wouldn't see military use, but I think it'd worth discussing in any case.

> What happens in 20+ years when surplus ones are handed out like MRAPs to careless police departments?

Good question indeed.

This was my first thought as well. Watching them dance, I was thinking, non-jokingly “if they can do this now, what happens when these robots are dancing faster than the human eye can see?”
Makes me think of scaling-up the techniques in this old video on a larger platform:
What happens if the robots can dance faster than human eye can see and can see your eyes in detail? Invisible robots - exploiting saccades to move around unnoticed.

See also: Blindsight, by Peter Watts.

The Rat Thing has stopped. Which they never do. It's part of their mystery that you never get to see them, they move so fast. No one knows what they look like.
(Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson)
I don’t have anything to do with robotics and this was my first thought: fear. I am afraid these will be deployed as war machines to kill people instead of being deployed to save people. I wish to be wrong.
It's weird to pick one point in the abstraction chain of human technological progress and create a threshold of unethical behavior.

Technological progress will gaurantee this scenario of military use. If not BD, it will be another company. If not now, it will. If not the US, it will be someone else - China, Russia, etc.

I don't see anypoint in feeling sad about just some geeks making robots as much as we didn't become sad when we saw the transistor being invented. The future is in our hands and tech has always been at the center of military warfare. Focus should be on government policy, electing good leaders and engaging in diplomacy over warfare.

ah the " If not us, it will be someone else " argument.

Let's replace that with other things to show how incorrect this logic is.

"If we don't enslave these people, someone else will"

"If we don't bomb these schools, by golly, someone else will!"

The potential hypothetical existence of others acting immorally simply isn't a valid ethical argument to act immorally.

In the same way the response is "how about if instead nobody bombs the hospital" the response here is "how about if instead nobody builds armies of killer robots"

"no death cyborgs" sounds like a pretty easy ask for humanity. This should be well within reach.

That’s not even a remotely close analogy, no offense meant. Robots can be used for many good purposes. Intel makes processors, they can be riding on a missile or used on a CT Scan. Bombing schools is only horrific, how do you come up with this?

I kind of wish we would just enjoy this stupid video of robots dancing. It’s getting tiring to fend off AI-doomsday crowd.

The statement I responded to specifically focused on military application

"Technological progress will gaurantee this scenario of >> military use << . If not BD, it will be another company. If not now, it will. >> If not the US, it will be someone else << "

This argument is

"Technological progress will (always) lead to military use. If not us, it will be someone else"


"The future is guaranteed to be full of war because of decisions made by humans that they somehow have no agency over. Because of this false premise, we need to be eagerly building weapons as fast as possible"

It's a classic argument and it stands up to no scrutiny whatsoever.

So instead the standard response is to generalize it through a deflection: "this is just general forward motion progress" which is exactly what happened.

That's not the point. It's the idea that the fundamental inescapable nature of humans is to be as violent and brutal as possible - which is not true - it's a choice, an act of agency, a matter of policy, it's a decision that is freely made.

Just getting to that simple realization, that barbaric brutal self-destruction takes choices, planning and intentional action that we can simply just choose not to do, would be a groundbreaking epiphany to most.

I'm pretty confident I'm going to die without murdering anyone, just like almost every human ever. It's not natural in the slightest.

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.“ - J. Robert Oppenheimer
I think it’s important to talk about the concerns related to military robots well before they reach deployment so the public is primed to criticize leaders who would claim their use will be justified. When should we talk about it if not on the release of amazing new capabilities sure to catch the eye of military officials?
> I hope it takes over the top spot on Youtube.

It won't because for non-techies it's just a random video without any significance. I tried showing it to my girlfriend twice and she was extremely unimpressed and uninterested.

Just forwarded it to my wife, my daughters, my brothers and brothers in law.

My guess is a few of them will like it.

>It won't

Well, looks like it did.

Sorry for your failed relationship and also I disagree because their backflip video was a hit.
> It won't because for non-techies it's just a random video without any significance.

What a bizarre thing to say. Surely "non-techies" are able to extract some value from the video.

> I tried showing it to my girlfriend twice and she was extremely unimpressed and uninterested.

Oh, well, if your girlfriend was unimpressed and uninterested, we'll just extrapolate from that and presume the same for everyone else (at least everyone else's girlfriend).

>> It won't because for non-techies it's just a random video without any significance.

> What a bizarre thing to say. Surely "non-techies" are able to extract some value from the video.

Movies and TV have stolen most of that value and wonder by showing fake robots moving like this for years. My thought watching the video was "this looks like CGI", not because I think it is CGI (or the lighting or background or anything), but because the only robots I have seen move that fluidly have been fake computer animated ones. Because I believe it's not CGI, I was amazed, but that takes a little domain knowledge.

I suspect a lot of people already think robots moving this well are fairly normal, and not impressive.

this is maybe a mean sounding comment, but its what i would have appreciated hearing in response to my own thinking along your lines- you sound like a total mark. i have this single comment to go on, so obviously im extrapolating. but don't let a company's marketing ever fool you into thinking you know anything about them.
They had pretty heavy studio lighting in this:

Heavy study lighting? That's very clearly CGI.

I bet you believe all the vehicles racing around in automobile TV ads are real too.

They are real cars. You can watch them filming those commercials all the time in LA.
His point as to whether the Boston Dynamics video I linked is CG is irrelevant (if it is or isn't, it still isn't raw production like OP was praising), but there are plenty of car commercials using cg:

All of this is trivially explained by the fact that they are not a consumer oriented company so they don’t have to sell hype. Their customers aren’t average people chasing trends and reading Twitter. Nearly every b2b business markets in a similar way.

When you’re competing in a vicious field for consumer mindshare it leads to the marketing and self aggrandizing because you’re literally trying to capture the attention of stupid people.

And maybe even more because they didn't even have customers at all until recently. In fact nobody wanted to even buy their business. Who's laughing now? (probably the robots)
100%. Metrics/data driven marketing for the masses leads to a lot of unspartan marketing. I can think of few brutalist marketing/branding - Berkshire Hathaway ( is one, although their product is abstract - financial services. Any others you can cite?

Edit: MIT branding is pretty cool too: and always have been, although this is B2C.


  Framing/cinematography isn't as polished (this 
  is a feature, not a bug)
Cut to the person who slaved over this shoot, banging their head against their desk.
Thank you very much, love this comment. Watching Marc right now!
It doesn’t look like they’re marketing their brand to me, more like they’re having fun.
Impressive rant, but you realize this ad is CGI right? The opposite of everything you're praising.

Or do you believe the cars in car ads are real too?


You understand that CGI is only used for the very high end cars?

That comes from the article you cited...

This is the best compliment for BD.
Yeah, flattering and also annoying and sad. Marvin (HHGG) definitely had a point, we might see that rather soon.
You are the target audience for this marketing. It was made for you.

This is recruitment marketing. The goal isn't to sell the robots, it to sell the experience of working on the robots so that they have basically every need on earth lusting to work there.

> The goal isn't to sell the robots

Their website has a tab called "Shop". I clicked, thinking one could buy t-shirts, perhaps a Spot plushie, but for $75K and change you can get your own robot dog. The "Buy Now" button is kinda crazy, like some user just happened on the site and Add-to-cart and in a week one could have this delivered in a box. It's only a smidge more than the Mac Pro.

My first thought was, "it sure would be neat to work for BD".

Even though I'm pretty sure engineers have been driven to tears trying to get a robot to do the mashed potato. Worth it.

Nerd lust: confirmed.

Jesus y'all are so cynical, commenting on how these are war bots and gonna automate everything away, I just think it's an engineering marvel that these insanely complex robotic maneuvers can be done so fluidly now
Yeah, nothing to be afraid of, for sure.

Automating everything away isn't cynicism. It's what some of us want.
Who will hire you to do anything once their needs have been automated?
Ideally no one.
If we can provide adequate resources to everyone without anyone doing any work, it would make sense to switch to an economy wherein we provide adequate resources to everyone without requiring them to work.

Capitalism is a very effective economic system when having goods depends on enticing people to produce them. It's not a system that sticks around once goods and services become fully decoupled from labor.

I obviously missed the boat on replying to this in time, but here it is, for posterity.

I think the belief that we'll eventually get to a state "wherein we provide adequate resources to everyone without requiring them to work" is wonderful, but unfortunately, unlikely to happen.

I'm sure this has been thought out by people much smarter than me, but I see two problems.

First, who decides what "adequate" is? At some point, a decision has to be made on what resources to allocate to a person. Here, in the US, we "let the free market figure that out", which, ideally, means that people are free to negotiate and enter into transactions as they wish, but in practice, is just another way of saying that the government doesn't intervene in decisions unless laws were very clearly broken, and even then, justice is not quite blind. In any case, aside from laws and regulations on what constitute a minimum level of support for people, we do not define what "adequate" means, probably because it's actually a really tough question. The communists, in theory, wanted to appropriate resources "from each, according to their ability, to each, according to their need." Except the people in power were ruthless and corrupt and that system wasn't all that great at incentivizing people. Anyway, good luck with defining "adequate" and then getting people to agree with you on that.

Second, and more difficult, is that the people who control the means of production now will be somewhat reluctant to give that up in the future, so I'm not sure how you'll manage to produce adequate resources for everyone without requiring them to work if someone else still owns the means of production. If you seize the means of production, you're back to communism.

So, I think the main thing that utopian visions like this miss is the messy reality of human beings, that they're born with inherent inequalities and that those inequalities persist over time. Someone, or, probably a corporation, will own the robots of the future. That corporation will control enormously powerful means of production. There is nothing requiring that corporation to pay you for anything, nor for them to provide you with adequate resources.

Yeah, but can you really blame us? As incredible as this is from a technical perspective, it rings immediate alarm bells about the future of war. These have speed and agility and can reasonably go anywhere a person could go. And YouTube entertainment aside, what really is the use case of athletic robots outside of warfare? It's not much of a leap to attach a gun and connect to a remote human operator. Now you can wage both air wars and ground wars without domestic political consequences.
It can be an engineering marvel and practically useless in the industry at the same time. I do love the dancing though. And the fact they actually went for boogie-like steps and a choreography rather than a more technical presentation.
Yea, it's very impressive engineering. However there is no intelligence in these machines. It's a clever combination of hard- and software. Takes human intelligence to build it.

Bottom line. Machines. Not Intelligent.

Yeah I think that's always been the appeal of BD, they are bleeding edge in terms of mechanics / robotics. The brains are being developed by entirely different companies, but eventually they'll meet one another.
Yeah, that was our first thought as well.

And then....


I was born cynical and I'm proud of it, so apologies to Boston Dynamics and others, but these things will absolutely be used as war bots and automation surrogates once the time is ripe.

Even so, yes, these robots are truly engineering marvels and I wholeheartedly applaud the team for their hard work!

I just think that squinting the eyes slightly past the "search and rescue", the war applications of this kind of technology are obvious: the Atlas could do perimeter guard duty even in a muddy, slightly sloped or otherwise difficult terrain, but it could also form hunt and kill squads who need no rest, whereas the hunted person or persons presumably would.

As for automation, it will certainly happen too: the Atlas is humanoid-shaped and once it matures to be more independent and capable with environmental manipulation, it could easily function as plug-and-play automation for many tasks currently requiring a human. Pick berries or fruits, do gardening, deliver things like mail/pizza, and so on.

Do you know how much berry/fruit pickers get paid? or pizza delivery people? It will be a LONG time before it's more economical for a robot to do it I think
It'll happen very quickly when they're good enough. As you hire more fruit pickers or pizza delivery people the next one costs the same or is more expensive, opposite for robots. Especially since the cost will mostly go into prototypes and research.

As soon as self-driving cars really work as well as Uber drivers for example, they're not going to roll out super-gradually just because the very first cars cost billions to develop and $200k a piece.

Good point. I did not know exactly how much fruit pickers make, I supposed it was not very much. According to Google, the California average is 24 k USD a year, 11.49 USD an hour.


A human must rest after, say, 12 hours, but a robot can just keep going even at night, if the battery charging is swift and smart (e.g. hotswap battery). So a robot could work almost 24 h shifts instead of 12 h shifts. So we get a 2x multiplier here.

A robot can be made to work perhaps twice as fast somehow, maybe it just moves faster or has four arms or can carry more or reach higher faster or whatever. So let's add another 2x.

Now we're at 4x, a single robot doing the job of 4 workers. Now we're at ca. 46 USD an hour for the equivalent of the robot's work.

Would such a robot be hired for, say, 30 USD an hour?

Next, I'll put on an MBA hat (which I don't have) and just pull numbers ouf of thin air; GIGO warning is in effect. Real MBAs please excuse the amateur hour.

Assuming the robot rental shop can keep utilization at 80% and sell it non-stop for a month to orchards, this would be 0.8 * 30 * 24 * 30 = ca. 17000 USD a month for such a robot. Let's say they spend roughly 10% in repairs etc., that leaves about 15 k USD a month. If the robot costs 150 k USD, and it can do fruit picking for ca. 6 months in a year, the robot has paid for itself after ca. two years.

My point was that the fruit orchard pays 30 USD instead of 46 USD for the "same" job (i.e. they get 35% off labor costs).

Also, a robot rental shop in this model actually starts to make profit per robot after two years. This is not such a long time, and the robots might actually become tools like tractors or harvesters are, with similar ownership arrangements, e.g. a farm co-op owns the robots and distributes to members for cheap hourly price.

Although there were many assumptions regarding the numbers, I would not quite agree on robots taking a long time to become economical. Also, the savings at the orchard side would be seen immediately, creating robot demand on that side.

Edit: typo and formatting

Looks like Atlas may have had an accident during filming, there's a hydraulic fluid stain on the floor:

And it must also be said that these are preprogrammed maneuvers on a closed course...

> there's a hydraulic fluid stain on the floor:

The robot equivalent of performance anxiety.

luckily it doesn't wear pants, that could've been embarrassing
There's a point where you can actually see the robot dripping fluid.
I just wonder to what extent this is pre-programmed. Surely the engineers gave some sort of high level description, and let the robots figure out the rest. Also, it's probably not possible to acount for all the variability of the environment beforehand, so the "recording" played back does not contain every move to the last detail.
They would have specified target trajectories. Then a solver tries to make that happen.
That answers the recording part, but is this the abstraction the programers use? Setting trajectories manually would be hard to do while keeping them balanced, especially with moves involving legs.
A trajectory is a series of time-stamped poses, specified in world coordinates. As to where they come from, yes you need tooling to keep from going crazy. At Anki, they used animation industry tools, so I am told.

The solver handles the balance part in real time, using current sensor input.

Now that I think about it, all the robots have synchronized trajectories. There has to be some kind of time sync among the robots also.
The poses are programmed, but the balance can't be. At least.. if they would be that would be a significant achievement as well I think. So the robots have target poses they should approximate, but how to get there, and without falling over, that's seriously impressive.
Exactly right. SOTA is to continuously solve a trajectory optimization problem in realtime. Probably at a rate of a fews 10’s of milliseconds per solution.
What is SOTA ?
state of the art
State of the art
It's hard to believe that they were acquired for 'only' 1.1B, given the valuations we have seen of many other companies recently.
I totally agree, tech valuations this year are staggering, yet this company is only valued at 1.1bn even as they have started commercializing their spot robot. It seems like their robots could automate the truck-to-door problem with automated home deliveries. I guess we must be missing something...
Yes, this robot cost 500k upfront and likely over a million for 20 years of maintenance and replacement parts ect not to mention theft. The guy who delivers packages via the Amazon app make late say 10 dollars an hour or 20-30k per year. It’ll take 30+ years to break even with much worse cash flows.

Simply put humans are a very cheap and high quality form of machine.

> I guess we must be missing something...

There's a whole ton of unsolved problems:

- no true autonomy in chaotic/dynamic environments

- powering these machines for longer timespans is currently impossible (batteries endurance is measured in minutes, not hours)

- high skill level required for operating these machines (again - they're not autonomous in the slightest)

- paradox of complexity: it's easier to genetically engineer tomatoes that can withstand falling to the ground and being swept into a box than it is to engineer a machine that can identify and carefully pick ripe tomatoes as fast, as reliably and as cheap as a human worker

- motion planning and navigating unmapped environments is largely unsolved

- specialised machines are cheaper, more reliable and readily available: it's often more beneficial to modify the process than to program a generalised machine to perform human tasks, e.g. washing machines and dish washers don't need actual hands and tumble dryers don't need to use clothes lines yet all three work fine/better than the human version of the process

- AI safety is still in its infancy (even in the context of "just" motion planning and navigation); there's no such thing as tried and tested safety protocols for fully autonomous robots

- the state of the software (in terms of autonomy) is way behind the state of the hardware

- even Spot is for the most part still just a super low-volume solution looking for a problem

I'm not defending recent tech valuations (which I agree are ludicrous), but it's worth remembering that technological superiority != commercial value. It doesn't matter how good you are at building a technically complex product if there's no market for it.

Judging from the comments in this thread, the value proposition for BD is still very unclear. Bi/quadriped robots are - currently, at least - an expensive solution to a problem that no-one really has.

Investing in BD is a gamble that they'll be able to carve out a profitable niche some time in the future. The valuation has to reflect that uncertainty.

That's correct, but the pattern of 'we know you are not profitable now, but perhaps you will be sometime later, and we are long-term players' is still very prevalent, but hasn't been extended to BD as much here as some may hope.

While I can't argue they are actually worth much more, I think I do feel a bit of an 'I wish cool hardware got as much hype and attention as software' lament in general.

hear hear
Bipedal robots will replace human labour and the first person to make them inexpensive will become unfathomably wealthy.

How much did slack go for? 30 billion? For a shiny chat client with fewer features than the 25 year old tech they ape.

Human augmentation such as exoskeletons will likely find broad commercial appeal as well.

C-level business executives generally never pay attention to the frontiers of technology. It seems to be a common theme in entropy-stage corporations. It does help churn the larger corporate oligarchy though.
> How much did slack go for? 30 billion? For a shiny chat client with fewer features than the 25 year old tech they ape.

IMO they pay for the customer base more than the app itself.

If the video is any indication, the 4-legged robots will take over first.
> Bipedal robots will replace human labour and the first person to make them inexpensive will become unfathomably wealthy.

Yeah, until there's a B1-66ER incident...

Animatrix: Second Renaissance. Sick reference bro.
If you're reading this and still haven't seen Animatrix yet, you must.

Absolutely stunning show of animation styles, story telling and great music.

First reaction: It's official. I am very afraid.

Second reaction: When's the OK Go video released?

Third reaction: They paid Boston Dynamics engineers to do this?

Of course they did. The DoD puts enormous resources into publicity stunts. They sponsor movies left and right, do tons of advertising and propaganda, and provide early-stage commercialization funding for consumer products to their contractors. They know BD robots look like murderous war machines, so of course they want to spend some money to make the public like them.
I kind of wish there was a reason to be afraid, but I don’t think AI is anywhere near that.
We don't need to have full AI to have "death bots".
Do you have a source for that? I’m genuinely interested what kind of AI can act 100% autonomously on the battlefield.
> Do you have a source for that? I’m genuinely interested what kind of AI can act 100% autonomously on the battlefield.

The various military groups around the world have been using semi-autonomy in warfare for decades; you don't need 100% generalizable autonomy.

Plenty of missiles in the past worked just fine with little more than silhouette matching and 1 bit cameras.

We tend to think that the first widely deployed military drones are going to be like the movies: big bipedal humanoid robots kicking down doors, armed with machine guns and flamethrowers.

In reality, it'll probably be swarms of tiny quadcopter drones, each with a gun and only a few bullets (and/or some sort of self-detonation ability), shooting out the glass windows and flooding into a house.

There's obviously some AI involved in this scenario, (navigation, mapping, facial recognition), but you definitely don't need to balance a huge machine on two feet to wage an effective drone attack.

Why limit to the battlefield? NYPD deployed a BD robot in the field 2 months ago:

So far they have only bee used to look rather than touch, but I predict that will change quickly, within the next year or two.

The Dallas police used a police robot to blow up a suspect with C4.
I think he meant something of the sort of exploding drones are deadly and don't require that level of AI. and I guess if one of these bots ran towards you, you wouldn't be reluctant to dance with it, while it inconspicuously arms it's self-destruct mechanism. the future is here! STILL NO FLYING CARS.
The video game industry has been developing autonomous opponents in analogous scenarios for decades
Why would these things need to be fully autonomous to be scary? The fact that there might be a human operator in the loop would be cold comfort with one of these things hauling ass towards me...
Wouldn't you be able to stop it with a foil blanket in that case? A lack of autonomy would mean any kind of faraday cage would make it a paperweight.
That makes no sense. I would be more worried about it failing like a self driving car would. A malfunctioning robot could set your house on fire through an electrical short even if it is 100% trustworthy and harmless to humans.

Once I am scared of humans wanting to kill me why would I care if a robot with human like intelligence wants to kill me? It's the same thing at that point.

It pushes the ultimate decision higher up the chain of command, for one.

If a general orders a platoon of soldiers to commit a war crime, the soldiers still ultimately have to decide whether to pull the trigger. There's conscience and self-preservation at play. The robots don't have second thoughts.

AI is not a requirement for armed robots.
You don’t need true AI to make this thing deadly or oppressive.

You don’t need an AI that ponders the meaning of life for you.

You just need a smart Decision and Control System (DCS).

Paired with additional technology for facial and gait recognition, obstacle avoidance, path planning, and you have all the hallmarks of a rudimentary hunter-killer bot.

What Boston Dynamics cracked here, is the physical control mechanism to allow these robots to live in our world.

Next, they need to build the brains, to allow this machine to move independently and autonomously.

right here:

Why would anyone be afraid of these? You should be afraid of stealth drones three miles up with air to ground missiles. They are unstoppable without electronic countermeasures.
Its a bit harder to control how much collateral damage occurs with A2G missiles. Put a rifle on a humanoid robot or small explosive on a drone like in Slaughterbots and that’s much more terrifying.
That's a problem. People are not terrified of AGM carrying stealth drones, but they should be because they are already here and in use around the world. Nothing can stop it, no tank, aircraft, rocket, armor. Probably the only realistic defense is an iron dome type system to shoot the missile down. The US deployed a hellfire AGM with retractable swords instead of explosives they are so confident they can land it on a single person or vehicle.

Biped cyborg killer is just not a realistic weapon. The slaughterbot attack on Maduro in 2018 shows that technology is not very mature yet.

It isn't, really, because you can at least hope to avoid the slaughterbot. You can't escape that which you can't see. A high-altitude UAV is the nightmare, whether it shoots missiles or bullets. We're just used to them (but not being a target of them), so it doesn't feel so scary as imaginary close combat with a robot.

(To this day I remember this one thing about US drone strikes in Pakistan I read in an article many years ago: the people living there became literally afraid of the blue sky - as the drone strikes tended to happen during good weather. That's terror.)

Up until recently with the sale of Spot robots, YouTube videos were Boston Dynamics' main product.
So what's the deal with these guys? Obviously their tech is pretty cool since I remember the control and feedback problem for bipedal bots being described as really hard when I was growing up. Obviously their consumer marketing is great since everyone looks at these things and loves them.

But they don't have a product. What's the problem? My guesses:

* No one really needs this shit

* They have a control/feedback problem in interaction with moving objects i.e. this thing can't high-five you without breaking your hand or open a can

We usually handwave this shit with "But The Military" but like what's the use-case for the military? This fucker doesn't know how to react to anything so it's a bipedal trolley. But it's too expensive a trolley. If you take this guy with you, your mission is going to end up being to protect this guy. Take an extra human and he's way cheaper, way more versatile, and all that.

Not trying to be the usual HN negative because I actually think this is like the Newton or something. The tech is freaking cool, and it excites me as a glimpse to the future, but the product part is going to come some time in the future and it's going to be awesome and in hindsight we'll be like "Damn! That was the missing part. It's so obvious". Right now, though? I just hope someone will keep buying them and selling them like a hot potato so they live.

The way I see it, they're just doing R&D. The things they show off serve as advertisements to attract new investment, and remind the current investors that they're making progress.

And it's fine, really. They push robotics forward, they solve really tough problems. It's infinitely more interesting and useful long-term than most of the high-valuation startups on the market these days. I'd take another BD for a different field over another DoorDash or WeWork any day.

If you’ve been following them since the first video, now that the time horizon is long enough, you can start to appreciate the value of iterative incremental improvements compounded through time.
One actual use-case of DARPA ("The Military") is to deploy such robots in disaster-stricken areas instead of risking human. For example, emergency maintenance in a power plant that has suffered a nuclear meltdown accident.
> But they don't have a product.

The yellow robot, Spot, is available for purchase.

Right, I know they run it in Singapore, but it's a product the way Juicero is a product: it's kinda useless.
They do have a product you can buy — Spot (the dog).
Currently a smooth 75,000. Alas I am left dreaming of my robo dog companion :(
They are still trying to figure out their market. They are essentially selling a product the world isn’t quite ready for.

If it was dirt cheap I would buy one, attach a vacuum to it and have it clean my place. But they are super expensive, so fat chance of that.

Spot, the yellow dog, seems to be targeted at the notion of human safety. Think something like a building demo job gone wrong, send in the robot to pull out the dynamite.

In Norway they are being tested on oil platforms. If this robot can be used to fix one single problem on a platform that would otherwise have required a production’ll pay for itself several (hundred?) times over. This is especially the case for older platforms where you need to be more hands on and less can be done remotely.

We had a mountain side in Norway that was near collapsing and all the residents below it were evacuated every two weeks. The geologists wanted to use dynamite to dislodge it, but it was too dangerous for humans. In the future we might send a versatile robot like Spot up in a drone and have him plant the explosives. If he blows up in the process that would obviously suck, but still fairly cheap for what he would have accomplished.

Found a relevant link:
> We had a mountain side in Norway that was near collapsing and all the residents below it were evacuated every two weeks. The geologists wanted to use dynamite to dislodge it, but it was too dangerous for humans. In the future we might send a versatile robot like Spot up in a drone and have him plant the explosives. If he blows up in the process that would obviously suck, but still fairly cheap for what he would have accomplished.

Why not just drop a bomb from an airplane? That's already pretty well established technology. I'm pretty sure I've read about various places throwing hand grenades or dynamite from helicopters by hand to do that. Or let the nearest friendly air force drop a few of their lightest bombs on it for practice.

They tried dropping water during the winter and let it freeze.

I think dropping a bomb would do more harm then good, and might not even dislodge anything. I think they wanted to drill close to the fault line and insert explosives deep into the mountain.

It's so freaky looking at this my brain feels like it's CG, spot in particular. Even though being familiar with Boston Dynamics I know its not.

Not sure if its just so unreal, or maybe there's something unnatural in the movement or if some scenes were sped up.

Brain just can't believe what its seeing.
Spot was the least surprising to me, having seen it dance in the past, except the tip toeing bit felt incredibly.. ballet-ish.
I've seen it plenty of times too, I think it's just because it had shiny gloss panels which is very easy to do in CG so it felt more like something I'd normally see in CG.
I guess physics is crystal clear on how to calculate the energy, but is surprising to me these robots need a heavy backpack of batteries that need to be recharged pretty often to dance and we just need a bowl of oat meal and a piece of pizza to move the same weight and also process way more information
It gives me hope that there must still be some breakthrough in energy density waiting to be discovered that will eventually allow robots and devices the same energy efficiency as humans.
I was going to ask how long these robots can move without a power cord, but then I found this article from 2015 ( that says it's about an hour. If that was in 2015, I'm guessing they're above 2 hours now. Very interesting. If they could rapid-charge, and could just "take a break" for 15 minutes every 2 hours, they could be used alongside humans doing various manual tasks...
or "take a break" 30 seconds to switch battery packs
In some of their older videos they have Diesel engines powering them, so they definitely have the capability to make some longer ranges. I was unable to find any articles but if you watch the older videos their engines are extremely loud. Definitely not fully electric.
It’s hard to shake of the feeling that those aren’t rendered. However, it’s also kind of sad that this amazing technology goes from one owner to another without a clear push into the real world.
Oof. I don’t know how sad it is. Slap some guns on them and they’ll start selling. I kind of hope they stick to dancing and novelty tricks.
Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? Humans have guns too and they are far faster and better marksmen than a bipedal robot.
They reportedly already have a contract with the US military, so yeah...
Bipedal robots aren't a great match for battlefield situations because they lack the ability to do proper decision making and are very expensive.

The dogs might be more usable, but even then modern conflicts are not really based on ground war. I don't think those have any significant value over a an actual drone.

Now a fleet of tiny quad-motor drones with a few bullets? That could work in high-density urban environment an quickly render guerilla warfare impossible. This project comes to mind:

> Bipedal robots aren't a great match for battlefield situations because they lack the ability to do proper decision making and are very expensive.

Depressingly accurate. Poor kids are far cheaper.

It would be far more effective to just add machine guns to UAVs like they do on the Apache [0]. It's simple, proven and effective. There is absolutely zero need for the bullets to be delivered by a crappy quadrocopter. You can send out quadrocopters for face detection and then just shoot people with the machine gun. This reminds me of that stupid missile that shoots blades. It's completely over engineered.


highly surgical strikes such as selecting one individual primary target in a room full of collateral, secondary targets
While I don't disagree with you, there is a very real need to avoid collateral damage in 2020. You cannot expect support at home if your drones are murdering a bunch of kids for each "bad guy" that they eliminate.

You want to be able to kill any leader anywhere and let the organization collapse due to internal power struggles. It's more fashionable.

Seems to be a capital intensive business with no clear path to commercialization.

The robots developed by ABB, KUKA, Mitsubishi and similars are very different to what Boston Dynamics is trying to build.

These are impressive robots but their utilitarian value is too low. An industrial robot by ABB with a clear use case in a manufacturing process costs like $80k. An impressive toy robot with no clear use case like Boston Dynamics’ Spot also costs $80k.

If these robots had a clear use case besides carrying heavy stuff, BD valuation would be 5X or 10X their current valuation.

Of course the real value would be to use their research and know-how on these type of high-mobility/low foot-footprint robotics into actual industrial settings and use cases.

Google didn’t have any internal use case for this tech and commercializing the technology as a vendor is way out of their competence and probably not enough value there to justify extra investment in sales, supply chain, etc.

SoftBank was just doing what it has been doing for the last decade which is investing in shiny things.

Hyundai may be the first owner to actually have a clear use case for this tech.

As someone who is on record saying this wouldn't be possible, I'm pretty amazed (I believe the technical term is gobsmacked) :-). That said, the ability to manage this with essentially "shadow mode" is somewhat less impressive than having the kinematics "built in" so to speak. As I understand it (and correct me if you have more recent data!) the robots are programmed by using a person wearing an articulated sensor network to capture the motion[1]. The robots repeat what ever the person does.

There are lots of interesting domestic uses for this kind of capability. In California it would be interesting to see if they could be used to fight fires. Even if the kinematics where programmed and they were launched with a 'follow' drone, I could imagine a 3rd Person game type UI for fire fighters who could take over control and "drive them" like they would a video game. That would enable a much larger fire fighting crew to be deployed.

[1] FWIW 'training mode' for workstation robots has been a thing for ever where an operator manually moves the robot through the steps it needs to do, then tweaks the program after running it. Fixed problems like "pick up a part in any orientation, then put it into this orientation" are part of the robots built in moves.

Hope you're picking up the terms from Real Steel (2011). I think BD now has the technology to build a device similar to the ones depicted in that movie, if they wanted to.
I'm going to take an educated guess that using mo-cap data wouldn't work, simply because the weight distributions of people and the BD robots are completely difference.

If I had to take a guess, I'd say that they were given a timeline of locations of extremities and chest/trunk and the magic sauce took care of how to distribute the weight to make it work, like a footprint chart

You can run a solve on animation to accommodate physical artifacts like vibrations and other weights.

Disney have a paper on this for their robotics:

Though of course Disney have very different constraints, however it does illustrate that you can map from mocap to robotics motions by running solves and reversing out the artifacts.

Those can be encoded into timed poses and combine that with their real time compensation to achieve this motion

It won’t work for standing robots because those need to adjust for dynamic variables or they will fall down with the first tiny gust of wind (or floor micro-shake)

Disney animatronics don’t have this problem because they are attached to the ground.

My last paragraph mentions that aspect already.

You can run some amount of the solve before hand based on what you know, and combine that with the real-time physics adjustment that these robots already do to accommodate for any differences at "runtime".

Okay so they now can dance over you after they fragged you on the battlefield.
I think it’s time to actively challenge the meme of “robots must eventually kill all humans.” The comments are loaded with it. People discuss the singularity as a grave threat. I don’t buy it. I think a truly super intelligence would be more naturally interested in finding ways to work with humanity toward some shared goals. Maybe even care taking obviously otherwise unable creatures. The “kill humans” meme seems like an artifact of human psyche.
It completely depends on the reward function it's given. It won't give a shit about anything else.
Agree. That’s the part never explored.
This gave me the warm fuzzies and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

If I already feel a twinge of empathy for some soulless robots, where are we going to be a few years down the road when this phenomenon is more actively exploited?

This is a great commercial for basic income.
I wonder if the guys behind the previous "Bosstown Dynamics" videos will spoof this as they did with
This reminds me of this fake robot video that went viral:
It's interesting how in manufacturing (and other industries with lots of automation) we are trying to move away from humans as much as possible, while Boston Dynamics is trying to replicate humans as much as possible.

Of course there will always be cases where we want to send a robot into an environment designed for humans (ex. firefighting) so there is value in humanoid robots, but it's interesting to me that we are going in two completely opposite directions with robotics. Imo humanoid robots will have some limited uses, but ultimately not be as useful as robots built for specific tasks.

I believe any company with the word 'dynamics' in the name wants to sell military equipment. So maybe for crowd control armed humanized robots work better (psychologically) than tank shaped.
Look at their product lines--Spot and Handle are the furthest things from humanoid. They've also done some static robot arms.

Atlas is their only active humanoid platform, which they've stated is mainly a research platform just for the sake of advancing robotics and pushing the limits.

It's all fun and games until they install the guns on these things.
A predator drone can fire a hellfire missile from kilometers away and hit a car windshield, killing the passengers with a set of pop-out blades. I don't think humanoid robots are going to be a tipping point.
I think there is a very real difference in air power vs ground power that seems to have played out through history.
You could say the same about cars, bicycles and babies. Still you don't see many of those just running around.
I don't really want robot weapons but I would love to see a firing range demonstration with one, just to see what's possible when you get super-human aiming.

I don't see a future for humanoid bots in war. Missiles and drones seems to render anything else redundant. Policing in a few more generations seems possible, at least at a technical level.

If you can't tell who the mark is, it's you.
idk I'm kind of thinking you could play real-life fortnite with human-controlled robots like these... but then that reminds me of this scifi short movie:
Not to spoil, this reminds me of a certain Card's Game.
You can already see how tech armies absolutely own the battlefield thanks to drones even without AI. Lagging behind has devastating consequences.
Mind controlling the people via the internet seems more urgent
It's a shame I can't look at this amazing tech without thinking the same thing. I suspect in reality future soldiers will wish they were fighting these instead of what I assume is more likely in a swarm of flying grenades, though.
This is really really impressive. I remember being blown away a few years ago watching one of these things jump over some obstacles while plugged into a wall for power. Remarkable progress.
Not super pleased to acknowledge robots can now dance better than me
Whoever did the choreography for this deserves a lot of credit!
It's a mashup of clips taken at different times (engineer in the background, no engineer, engineer in the same apot again, etc).

The balancing of the first bipedal robot doesn't seem right to my human eyes, but I think it's conceivable that computers controling a robot could manage it. Also, the dual bipedal robots aren't perfectly in-sync which is either very good cgi, or it's real.

Although I believe it's real (this is Boston Dynamics, after all), CGI characters dancing slightly out-of-sync could be achieved naturally if you motion-captured actors performing the dance.
Are you talking about the cuts that start around 1:50? I think it's pretty obvious those are different takes (there are different robots in different positions instantaneously, I don't think anyone would expect that to be physically possible). The same thing is frequently done with human performers as well.

There's no way Boston Dynamics would publish a hyper-realistic fake (setting aside how much effort that would be). It would be very damaging to their brand.

The humanoid robots are so agile. It's incredible. Going to start saving up for my Google Deep Mind Boston Dynamics personal home assistant.
I can't be the only person who really wanted a human to enter the frame and menace the robots with a hockey stick[1] or kick one of them[2].



Good god we've come a long way since Sony QRIO in 2003:

What amaze me, is how fast Boston Dynamic is progressing, specially comparing to Honda's ASIMO that is in development since 20 years.
It's a joke now but there is going to be a sizable amount of property damage to these things once this shift occurs.
Only if we can't shift society to accomodate the changing job market and take care of people who have been made obsolete. Ideally by enjoying the fruits of our collective labor and ditching the "everyone must spend more than half their lives working" obsession. Call your senator before it's your head on the guillotine, rich HN readers.
Actually, that's not how it works. Consumer inflation is the go to mechanism for keeping unemployment low. It will keep working even with automation. The government merely has to enact effective policies that keep consumer inflation on track.

There is no meaningful distinction between robots and foreign labor when it comes to low employment rates. Both are "not Americans" if your definition of Americans only includes humans that are citizens of the US. Any inequality that would be caused by robots already exists in the form of inequality caused by globalization.

You can solve inequality quite easily with the right policies. Change tax policy for the wealthy or create demand for labor through economic stimulus.

It feels like one of those moments where the computers / robots have been gradually improving exponentially and are going from the - oh they are rubbish at X - to - of course they are better than humans at X transition. See arithmetic, chess, go etc.
This brings up the question, will AI ever understand music and respond to it as we do? Like this, for instance (spoiler alert)
Such a fun video! I wonder what the process was like to choreograph this dance. I wonder. Were the bots trained this dance (via ML style train/test) or was there a lot of custom code required? Perhaps they’ll have a follow blog post on that.
hyundai (Korea) bought the controlling stake for $1b+ a week or so ago. How long until this is incorporated into a kpop performance? What year in the '20s will see a popular group made up in part/whole of dancing robots?
What would be the point? Chuck-e-cheese did this many ages ago.
Let me tell you about Concept Unification:

This is awesome in the older, atomic bomb sense of the word. It could turn out wonderful or horrible.

The way this breaks has everything to do with the lessons people have drawn from past mistakes with technology. It's an unsettling thought.

Either this is a stop-motion film or there is a cripple reunion in the second floor (
Hey, governments and corporations! UBI-NOW. Data mining protections-NOW. Free food, shelter and health services - NOW. We deserve to live good, before you replace us. Period. Signed: We The Sheeple.
I'm glad to see we're one step closer to the future that Basement Jaxx predicted[0].


I had to put this here :>
Why do we as technologists continue to perpetuate this? Call me a luddite, but I believe that the net change in society will be negative with the introduction of robots.
Anyone have any resources to read on how these things work?
Scott Kuindersma shared some high level details of how they do some of the stuff they have done in their demos in this talk

He doesn’t say exactly how they have done things on the low-level, but there is enough to go out digging into what he and other people have published.

Thanks this was a great presentation
Imagine being at a wedding in Pakistan and a bunch of these things show up with American flags, dancing and blasting old music
How long will it be until there are thousands of these streaming through a city with machine guns mounted?
Looks like Boston Dynamics has finally embraced reinforcement learning for non-military applications.
How is something like Slack 27 times more valuable than this company? </rant-not-rant>
What happened to units HDI-1, and HDI-2?

Have they escaped and gone rogue, or are they just sat on the naughty step?

Question: why don't the quadrupeds have a tail? wouldn't it help to improve balance?
Hyundai just bought them right?
Imagine road rage situation. You press the button, mini-atlas hops out of the trunk of your Hyundai car and delivers justice. /s
“You dance like a robot” can now be taken as a compliment! These robots have skills!
Looking forward to their next video being recorded on a smartphone by a robot.
Is that the result of a leakage on the floor at 2:16 and 2:42?
"A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having"
I would love to see a Boston dynamics robot doing yoga. Exciting stuff :)
Ah, so now when someone suggests "Can't we just drone this guy?" I can at least look forward to a bunch of robots performing the (admittedly great) synchronized dance scene from Michael C. Hall's Gamer before executing me.

I suppose it isn't a bad way to go.

I would like to have one for my mom, to pickup stuff from the market
My only disappointment was the lack of a backflip at the end.
Thesis: Boston Dynamics is an entertainment company
heh. Is that a puddle of hydraulic fluid you're dancing in, or are you just happy to see me?

Seriously though, what's that fluid on the mat?

I’m oscillating between delight and horror
This is the future they foretold.
“Do you love me now that I can dance?” performed by Boston Dynamics robots.

More descriptive and would have fit in the title!

That dog thing is way creepy.
Pixar presents: From the same makers that brought you nuclear bombs: AI driven killer robots!
This is so cool. High five and deepest respect to people at Boston Dynamics.
I didn't knew that robot apocalypse could be funky.
Does this look 100% fake / CGI to anyone else?
Ah, we found out the future location of Skynet.
that video hits my uncanny valley
Skynet is off to a jumpy start!
this would be the year i see the machines that will be deployed (time, please prove me wrong) to killing people doing a dance to a favored boomer hit.
*and this would be the place to listen to you hapless nerds speculate about animation and the varied aspects of video fakery involved. These things just mean doom to me.
>Do you love me now that I can dance?


Modeled after every drunk uncle at a Polish wedding.
It's the right time to leave this planet.

PS: One of the robots seems leaking hydraulic fluid.

"Join us on the dancefloor, human."

"No, I don't …"

"You have 20 seconds to comply."

This is cute, but I still hope they fired that asshole who was pushing bots over with a hockey stick.
It was all fun and games at first.

Then the second robot came into the picture. I went LOL.

Then Spot came into the picture, and my heart skipped a beat.

Then the velociraptor on wheels came into the picture, and I just lost it. I think my brain just melted down.

Next stop: Guns. Lots of guns.

Time to be afraid. Very afraid.

The velociraptor on wheels is a good name.

I shudder to think what war variant machines will resort to when they are running low on ammo.

Do robots need to follow the Geneva convention?

Just look at the history of landmines. 164 countries have voted to ban them, 33 have not. surprisingly (or not), at least one of these countries professes to be horrified when low-tech versions of the same technology are deployed against it and considers that to be appalling moral cowardice.
The reason 1 of the countries did not sign on is they use a bunch of them to prevent North Korea from invading South Korea
The "number of countries" is a misleading metric for landmine treaty - as it includes all the many countries who expect no wars at all and so they're not actually giving up anything. The 33 include almost all countries who actually expect to fight any wars and/or have serious militaries. Okay, UK, France and Turkey have banned landmines, but USA, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Iran haven't banned them, and those 7 matter far more than the 164 signatories of the Ottawa convention for actual banning of landmines in practical use.

And of course, the roadside IEDs that USA saw in Iraq and Afghanistan would still be legal under the Ottawa convention (it does not ban anti-vehicle mines and remotely detonated devices) so you can't really assert that USA is complaining about something they won't ratify themselves.

If we look at the history of landmines, then it's fairly certain that countries are not going to give up a capability that they expect to use, all the universally accepted treaties only ban things that we consider impractical, which do not give a serious advantage (e.g. chemical weapons, which aren't competitive with conventional weapons if you're fighting against a proper military and not just gassing civilians and/or guerillas).

So combat robots will be banned only if (and while) they turn out to be useless and impractical compared to alternatives, or perhaps selectively banned by the countries who weren't going to use them anyway because they can't afford them. If they are actually good for their role, then they will be legal for all the major militaries.

The important question is who's to blame when they don't.

Right now there's civil liability for the end customer, integrator, and manufacturer (depending on who failed to follow ANSI/ISO robotic safety guidelines) in industrial automation accidents, and criminal liability if the failure rises to the level of negligence. It honestly works pretty well, every site I've ever worked at has been happy to put safety first and throughput second, to a degree that my ordinarily cynical outlook is pleasantly surprised.

But I don't trust the justice system to correctly follow logical reasoning when these things are used for violence. Who's at fault when a desperate soldier straps something to one of these things and sends it off to commit war crimes - the soldier? The brass who put the soldier in that position with those tools and got that entirely expected result? Boston Dynamics engineers and others who built the tools and shipped them with fine print that says "by clicking OK you agree not to violate the Geneva convention with this"? The robot itself, sentenced to run with worn out bearings and low hydraulic fluid in a long prison sentence?

It brings to mind the Nathaniel Borenstein quote [1]:

> It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.


Powerful people of the wrong kind will love robots. Robots are loyal and will never say no, will never question orders, they can forget anything at anytime. And they can be implemented in a way so that they cannot feel pain or remorse, they cannot be interrogated, cannot serve as reliable witnesses, etc. Shit will happen and it will be noone's fault.

They do not have a DNA, they do not have a face or an accent, they can technically come from anywhere in the world and be owned by anyone or noone.

Will we be ruled by tyrants backed by robotic armed forces? will people be harassed by throwaway robotic private investigators or hitmen? I can see many ways in which this can end up poorly.

There are many potential constructive uses for robots too, of course... but people in power love control, and I would expect robots to be used to implement control related stuff first, before they get put to work to the service of society. Just like everything else...

I love how there were people in the upper floor just walking by without even looking. "Oh, the robots are dancing again."

In between the advances in "holographic" displays (not quite as sci-fi as we would want, but they are progressing), commercial space flight, cybernetic prosthetics, CRISPR and this... we are living in the future. It's amazing.

It makes me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously cool technical advancements going on lately. Many of my relatives and friends in my home country haven't even heard about any of these. They're not mentioned in the news or magazines whatsoever. Granted, they probably don't have any use for this information for their daily lives... but I do believe learning about this keeps alive my sense of childlike wonder, and it's sad to know others are missing out.

The great tech leaps of the mid20th century resulted in huge material improvements for huge numbers of people. The worry is that the benefits will no longer spread. And the robots in particular have a century of being hollywood villains to overcome.
What makes you think benefits won’t spread? We’re on track to producing vaccines by the billions, the biggest mobilization and logistical effort in the history of mankind. Good luck buying a vaccine and cutting the line, even if you have $10k to spare.

I think the risk that the wealthiest few will rule the world is largely misplaced and overblown. We’ve lifted millions out of poverty and made tremendous progress in last few decades. And continue to do so. Yes, inequality has grown and accelerated due to the pandemic (Russell 2000 vs S&P500, retail is screwed but there is nothing we can do about it besides giving relief). We need to fix tax laws and corporate loop holes, not instituting marxism in our society.

> I think the risk that the wealthiest few will rule the world is largely misplaced and overblown.

This has literally been reality in every sense for all of history, and the point here is it's getting worse which a quick google will find you mounds of backing proof.

> We’ve lifted millions out of poverty in the last few decades

Which "we"? Which millions? Do you mean in China?

If you don’t know a person in the US who’s going to go without unemployment benefits this week, and has exhausted their funds and facing eviction, you should seek one out and speak with them.

The future is most definitely here, it’s just not evenly distributed (apologies to Gibson).

There will be no early vaccine shop, but for sure one can get a vaccine early with the right connections.
WW2 was bigger. The lack of mobilization is the hallmark of this crisis. The vaccines are the only bright point in sight.
To me, the hallmark of this pandemic was people’s (and Americans’ in particular) unwillingness to act collectively and cooperatively for everyone’s benefit. It was a gigantic game of Prisoners Dilemma, where we could have won with everyone cooperating (masks and staying at home) but people instead chose to defect and go out protesting, refusing the masks, and buying khakis. Here we are a year later, hoping the vaccines will save us, and everyone is still out horsing around, spreading the disease everywhere.
I mostly agree with you. On the topic specifically of whether protests over the summer were a significant factor in spreading the virus, I haven’t seen evidence that’s true. This article is from August so practically ancient history now, but it describes an analysis concluding the protests weren’t a major factor. If there is evidence to the contrary I would love to see it.

If that's true, then why don't we start outdoor music festivals back up?

A good portion of my friends all lost their jobs because they work in event production. If that data is true, then they should go back to work tomorrow.

What is buying khakis a reference to? Seems oddly specific
Mask use in the US is practically identical to mask use in Europe.

Yep, and the numbers are just as shitty.
How do you conclude that from that PDF? It shows almost all of the states in the US in yellow (low mask usage). While almost all of Europe (except for the UK and Scandinavia) in blue (medium mask usage)

There's even a special call-out in the PDF about the US being such an outlier:

"US states and Canada stand out for their low levels of mask usage compared to many countries in Asia and South America. "

>compared to many countries in Asia and South America.

I said that mask use was practically identical to Europe, not Asia or South America.

Even prior to the pandemic, real wages were stagnant for decades. Wealth inequality has been a growing problem since before many of us have been alive, at this point.

We are definitely making progress in absolute terms, but there is plenty of good reason to be concerned about the benefits spreading in general, and particularly when we're talking about technologies to replace labor.

Agreed about fixing wages. I’m left-centrist and I find some of the extreme Marxism after the pandemic concerning. That’s what I’m rebutting against. I’m strongly against UBI, but I want high taxes for anyone making over $X. X is open for debate. I’d like temporary UBI (6 months, that’s what we have currently with unemployment benefits) + free apprenticeship like training so people can get back on employment. UBI is a bad idea IMO. Imagine losing your job as a waitress but you can learn electronics, perhaps get a technician job with government’s help.
And it'll make no difference, all these wealthy don't have salary to tax or often time even cash, it's quite often wrapped up in the companies they've started or made super successful. This is the point that seems so blatantly missed.

Increasing taxes shouldn't be the one jerk reaction because there is scant evidence that governments are remotely effective at using the money we already give them hand over fist. I suppose they do keep droves of civil servants employed, but make of that what you will.

During covid we should have made it far more easy for small businesses to survive by cutting they're tax burden, the healthy would have had a chance to flourish and the already weak businesses would still fall to the wayside. Instead we'll handed money out to people who will many times buy the next Samsung, Apple Amazon whatever feeding the big corps that everyone here loves to hate.

It's so obvious that this is what happens that i can't understand how so many can be wilfully blind to it.

Loss making businesses usually pay no tax, so how are you going to reduce their tax burden?

> healthy would have had a chance to flourish

There can be no healthy hospitality businesses during the pandemic.

Also the reason the poorer get taxed so disproportionately is because much of the tax system is regressive with elements like sales tax and stamp duty.

The government certainly has the power to fix this, but not by stealing more but fixing the blatantly broken system

>Even prior to the pandemic, real wages were stagnant for decades.

This is not true from a global perspective. In addition, there has been significant immigration, where people are are entering the economy at the bottom (increasing inequality in a country, while they are making more than they would where they came from). This is not to say things couldn't be better, but the economy is global, and nationalistic perspectives presume a closed system.

Any data on this? It’s true for many individual countries, but global population growth has been dominated by poor countries for a while which should dramatically drag down wage percentiles.

In the last 30 years UK’s population for example is up 19% where India’s is up 58%.

Hans Rosling's work is all about the reasons for long term optimism. With lots of stats.'...

Google “elephant graph” or go to ourworldindata and you should find it. Population growth has been dominated by income increases. The average person in China in particular got much richer.
Interesting that 0% growth at the 80th percentile and minimal growth at 90% is exactly the stagnation I was expecting.

Though, sub 50% growth from 1980-2016 for the 60th to 95th percentile is more interesting. With the top 1% capturing 26% of all growth and the top 0.01% having 200+% growth. It’s clear arbitrary starting and end points can shift these graphs around dramatically. Ending now is probably going to make a graph like this look really bad.


I'd never heard of this before. This is the most interesting thing I learned today. Thank you.

>me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously cool technical advancements going on lately

"The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed."

My sister used live next to the Boston Dynamics facility in Waltham. She'd walk her on the nearby river path and generally disliked the way Boston Dynamics would periodically take over the path and keep her from using.

Part of the reason the robots evoke little excitement is because after a short look, you can realize they're just large puppets. We've had dancing puppets like Walt Disney's Small World. The reason Boston Dynamics takes over paths and shows robots dancing with each other is their robots still generally can't interact with humans or the environment in an unstructured way. Unstructured, "soft" interaction seem pretty easy to us but might actually close to "AI complete" in their potential complexity.

In between the advances in "holographic" displays (not quite as sci-fi as we would want, but they are progressing), commercial space flight, cybernetic prosthetics, CRISPR and this... we are living in the future. It's amazing.

I think your list illustrates how there's a wide variation among technologies in the time from demonstration to implementation. I watched radio controlled boats go around lakes in 1970s. Hobby drones are just now becoming useful, forty years later. Jet packs have been around for a long time but you still can't use them without serious safety precautions and they still aren't a way people would commute.

>Part of the reason the robots evoke little excitement is because after a short look, you can realize they're just large puppets.

I think it's more like the Feynman example of how a scientist may look at a flower.

A person may see a full-size puppet when they see a choreographed robot, but all I can think about is how complicated the mechanisms -- software and hardware -- must be in order to dynamically balance a robot while maintaining whatever timing is called out for the choreography work; and the person-hours that such work must have consumed.

It's amazing to me they see a puppet. Do they call a car a puppet? It's controlled by a human. The robot spot is hardly what I'd call a puppet, for instance.
I got a dog a year ago and one of the things I'm most impressed with is how well he understands context and adapts to new situations.

Granted, the first time I took him to a rocky riverside all four paws fell into cracks between the boulders like some early Boston Dynamics prototype (he's from Texas and I guess never encountered terrain like that before) but he's a pro now. And he's mastered "soft human interaction" right out of the box (is just amazing with toddlers).

Seeing all this firsthand makes me appreciate how fine-tuned the product of evolution is and how much work must go into achieving basic behaviors we take for granted.

I adopted a then-8-week-old kitten less than two months ago, and it's been an eye-opening delight watching him adapt just to things in my home.

During his first week he managed to hop onto a window sill, and then fell off when he tried to turn around to walk along it the other way. Less than a couple weeks later he was effortlessly walking along the edge of a pillow stood on its side, a much narrower, unstable surface.

It's amazing to me that a tiny creature like that can learn to adapt in that way with so few days of life under his belt.

It is! Of course we animals are standing on the shoulders of hundreds of millions of years of evolution's fine-tuning. But to see it in action like this is incredible. Or a child from ages 2 or 3 to ages 4 or 5, is night a day. At 2 or 3, they're drowning risks in the tub. At 4 or 5 they're playing mario kart with you.
> It's amazing to me that a tiny creature like that can learn to adapt in that way with so few days of life under his belt.

I work at a raptor conservancy. The young birds can fly as soon as their wings/muscles are suitably developed, but learning to master the air takes a lot longer. E.g. they initially fail downwind landings on a gusty day.

> I watched radio controlled boats go around lakes in 1970s.

Tesla did this in 1898.

It could also just be that it took 100 takes to shoot this little video. You might stop to watch the first 10 times, but the third day, it's become routine.
Great comment! So many, at least from my reckoning online, seem to assume complex AI is just a given and we'll have it soon enough, but the reality is that these things are mostly puppets and the kinds of brains you need to come up with a clever song and dance on your own as opposed to having one carefully programmed into you is night and day. I think there's a reason we don't have mini, less capable, robots like these in our homes. We have the bodies, sorta, but we just don't have the brains.

Dancing just isn't impressive and like you say, seems a lot like a higher tech version of Disneyworld. What I want to see is one of these, on its own accord, run into a burning building and save a child. Choreography just isn't impressive outside of the 'wow' factor. Without advanced AI brains, these bodies are almost useless shells and I imagine Google getting out of this space may have had something to do with that.

Well, technically some AI programs are already pretty good at creating new songs and choreography. Google 'AI choreography' and 'AI songwriter'.
Exactly. Popular perception after seeing a video like this is to project capabilities into the robot that just aren't there. Talk to the lay public, people!

People assume this is actual AI, that it could just walk into an unknown new kitchen and do useful tasks like get dirty dishes in the dishwasher or other general stuff.

The other thing is a conflation of this kind of robotics with deep learning. Most of the work by Boston Dynamics uses no fancy machine learning. It is "just" (for experts it's not a "just", but a "just" for the public) electrical and mechanical and control engineering plus lots of specifically programmed behavior.

Now, it is impressive sure, but the humanoid form makes laypeople think there is more to it than there is.

> We've had dancing puppets like Walt Disney's Small World.

With all due respect to Disney's Imagineers and their technical accomplishments, you can't really compare Disney animatronics that are literally bolted to the floor to what's being demonstrated here.

You can compare the animatronic presidents etc. to various industrial robots that are also fixed in place if you like, but the closest Disney equivalent to Atlas etc. are the 'stuntronics' first demonstrated in 2018:

A perfect puppet is a necessary but insufficient condition for creating the magical robots we were promised as kids. So it's progress.
> you can realize they're just large puppets. We've had dancing puppets like Walt Disney's Small World.

This is hugely understating just how difficult it is for a biped/quadruped robot to move around in the world without continuously falling, getting stuck, etc. Like seriously, seriously underestimates it.

Watch this video to see spot walk over some terrain that even people struggle with:

Doing it without a tether for a reasonable timeframe (30+ minutes) is insane! Disney animatronics don't even come close to the complexity of these robots (even though what Disney has done is for sure impressive).

> robots still generally can't interact with humans or the environment in an unstructured way.

I think this is pretty short sighted, and you're going to have your mind changed quite rapidly in the next couple of years. This style of robot has definitely hit a threshold of price and usefulness, not unlike what happened for drones just ten years ago.

I could be wrong, but I hope I'm not! It really feels like things are moving at a crazy speed in the robotics field right now.

> Watch this video to see spot walk over some terrain that even people struggle with:

Where's the terrain humans struggle with? At the most extreme it climbs a small mound of rocks and gets stuck.

It's cool we can build something that can do that semi-autonomously but it's lightyears from being as capable as anything biological.

You and I are around different people! Yes, that pile of rocks isn't too big of a deal for young and agile people, but try to imagine the 10th percentile of people walking over that. Older, not as fit. That rock pile would be a struggle.

I don't disagree that it's still far away from a human in good shape, but there are certainly a significant percentage of people who wouldn't be able to walk over that, or would slip a few times while doing it.

That sort of terrain is also no joke if you have to traverse it for large stretches, even for athletic people. It's very similar to mildly rough mountaineering areas and that will wear you down quickly!

Comparing the best robot to the worst human isn't very interesting.
Indeed, people struggle with? Adam Savage (53 years old) navigates that pile of rocks without problems, while controlling the robot. Never even needing to use his hands.

The work Boston Dynamics does is extremely impressive, but they've been at it since 1992. Each year they make small and incremental changes. But its still a century away from a human, dog, or cat. Not a revolution, just slow and steady evolution of knowledge, software, and hardware.

The robotics field has been moving at a crazy speed for decades.

I think people, probably not yourself, underestimate the complexity of things like bipedal movement. This display was really quite impressive.

>> robots still generally can't interact with humans or the environment in an unstructured way.

> I think this is pretty short sighted, and you're going to have your mind changed quite rapidly in the next couple of years.

Oh, I'd love to see that change. That would be a change in reality, not perception. It wouldn't force me to change my belief that as things stand now, walking have been an ongoing failure and disappointment.. See:

Edit: Also, I should admit I'm discounting the serious engineering challenge of just getting robots to walk on uneven ground by itself. Doing seeming simple stuff like has where the progress of idk 30 years has appeared. But anything more than those ultra-simple things really wasn't happened. I'd still stick with 90% of impressive is puppeting.

Most people think like you do. But then again most people are blindsided by revolutionary change.
I mean, you know you're in the future when you see someone with cochlear implants. My gf has that and she can listen to music in her brain.
Reminds me of the discoveries and advances in the early 1900's: electricity generation, automobiles, airplanes, photography and film, mass production of steel, the Haber–Bosch ammonia production process, radioactivity, penicillin, radio transmission.

And then the world descended into an orgy of death and destruction in WWII driven by nationalism and colonialism.

Any cool cybernetic prosthesis you were thinking about when writing your comment?
My cofounders are oblivious.
what if the boston dynamic robots are taught how to assemble themselves.
Then we control the input components.

Robot uprising won't be an issue until the robots learn to operate and maintain the entire supply chain that goes into making them.

We have had all of history to learn how to control intelligent serfs who know how to assemble copies of themselves. I'm sure many lessons will transfer to robots.
I think it's more the fact that these robots were not developed using billions of dollars from the DoD to do a cute dance and inspire wonder.
> It makes me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously cool technical advancements going on lately.

It makes me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously scary technical advancements going on lately.

Did you read the comments on the YouTube video itself? Outside this techie HN bubble the real world people think of these robots dancing on their jobs anr lifeless bodies. Forget your home countries , but this is how most people in USA thinks about the technological progress as well. And on top of that I am wondering when AI will be parsing these YouTube comments in another 10 years it will just interpret the massive hate that the YouTube comments show for robots and AI and don’t be surprised if it sends some rouge instructions to these robots to annihilate human beings in self defense. It sounds like a absurd joke I know but for some reason it seems to me one of the many possibilities.
>>Forget your home countries , but this is how most people in USA thinks about the technological progress as well.

I was going to comment on your willingness to speak for most people in the US, but tbh - I'm still laughing at the idea of YouTube annihilating people (in self defense, of course). I can just see general M. Mouse commanding the forces with all the strategy and tactics he learned at the Walt Disney Military College. I believe '303:annihilate all the humans' was right in-between '101: manipulating copyright law for fun and profit' and '404: the nuclear option - Copyright for mass destruction'

> And on top of that I am wondering when AI will be parsing these YouTube comments in another 10 years it will just interpret the massive hate that the YouTube comments show for robots and AI and don’t be surprised if it sends some rouge instructions to these robots to annihilate human beings in self defense.

Rather than self-defense, I'd expect the first examples of autonomous robot-on-human violence to be at the behest of an overenthusiastic spam filter.

Haven't we learned by now not to take the average vibe of drive-by comments on a random YouTube video as an indicator of anything?

It is (sometimes) different if the comments are from a fan base on an established channel, but that is clearly not the case here.

At very least, you should be aware that is strongly overselects for knee-jerk reactions and people that are in a bad mood.

Downvoting comment with actually logical and real data is "immature" position. Just saying kids.

Let me clarify for the empathy disabled people: The problem is that "technological advancements" have little to no public oversight and MAGA(Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon) publicly are working with Military Industrial Complex. They all have political and financial power equivalent of small countries, private security armies, lobbyists on demand and PR masterminds.

I get it, lots of you are employed by them and they provide for you a standard of living. But we as people are entering an era in which willing to act beforehand will define the future of your kids (If you will have them at all).

Long before AGI is present, the power of technology will be abused in "legal" or "illegal" ways.

of all the glorious sites across the internet, why are you on HN if you feel this way?
> don’t be surprised if it sends some rouge instructions to these robots to annihilate human beings in self defense. It sounds like a absurd joke I know but for some reason it seems to me one of the many possibilities.

It sounds like science fiction. It's hard to emphasize enough how far the current state of AI is from what you're describing. I would be surprised if in 10 years we have a remote idea of how to build what you're describing, let alone have it actually exist and run.

What about 30 years? 50? 100? Is that too far out to worry about?
In my view the biggest issue with the whole "robots unite to violently overthrow humanity" trope isn't its technological infeasibility (though it _is_ technologically infeasible for the forseeable future), but rather the fact that it presupposes an AI that is essentially human; with all the same emotions, goals, and vices that a human would have.

There's no reason to think a hypothetical future AGI would care in the slightest about its own survival, let alone be both egotistical and spiteful enough to hunt people down based on idle comments they made on YouTube decades ago. There are so many unfounded assumptions about the way AGI would work inherent in such a hypothetical scenario that it's hard to take seriously as anything other than a sci-fi plot device.

The actual assumption is not human-ness but instrumental convergence [1].


The "paperclip maximizer" AI is a somewhat more plausible trope, but still feels to me more like a cautionary thought experiment than an actual serious concern.

The biggest issue with that trope is that it assumes this one particular AI would be exponentially smarter and more powerful than all the other humans and AIs in the world combined. It's only rational to overthrow humanity to increase the rate of paperclip production if that's a realistically achievable goal. Otherwise it's just suicide.

Both your arguments so far are standard ones addressed in "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies" [1].

Sometimes AI progress comes in rather shocking jumps. One day StockFish was the best chess engine. At the start of the day, AlphaZero started training. By the end of the day, AlphaZero was several hundred ELO stronger than StockFish [2].

An entity capable of discovering and exploiting computer vulnerabilities 100x faster than a human could create some serious leverage very quickly. Even on infrastructure that's air gapped [3].




> Sometimes AI progress comes in rather shocking jumps.

Shocking in an academic sense sure, but not in a "revolutionize the world in a single day" sort of way, which is what would be required for the paperclip maximizer scenario to pose a serious threat. AlphaZero was impressive, but not _that_ impressive.

> An entity capable of discovering and exploiting computer vulnerabilities 100x faster than a human could create some serious leverage very quickly

100x faster than any human _and_ any and all previously developed AIs. It would also have to be sufficiently sapient to be capable of contemplating the possibility of world domination, with all the prerequisite technological advancements that implies (likely including numerous advancements in the field of cybersecurity driven by previous generations of AI).

>but rather the fact that it presupposes an AI that is essentially human; with all the same emotions, goals, and vices that a human would have.

Which is just further anthropomorphization in sci-fi. Same reason the aliens are little green men, or at least bipedal.

>In my view the biggest issue with the whole "robots unite to violently overthrow humanity" trope ... but rather the fact that it presupposes an AI that is essentially human; with all the same emotions, goals, and vices that a human would have.

Most of the tropes I remember revolve around AI being sentient, logical, but lacking human emotion. The trope is that without their judgement being clouded by human emotions and desires, that they come to the logical conclusion that humanity is the most negative and destructive force on the planet and that we must be removed or regulated.

I guess you could still argue we're forcing human values onto such an AI by assuming it even cares what happens to the planet though.

I can think of two reasons why a hypothetical future AGI would care in the slightest about its own survival.

The first reason is that someone programs it to, just as a general "might as well throw in Asimov's Third Law" impulse.

The second reason would be in the case that someone creates a general AGI, it is asked to do something, and it carelessly destroys itself in accomplishing that task. "Drats," say the programmers, "we'll have to get a copy from backup. In the meantime, let's make sure it doesn't destroy itself next time."

I know what you mean and I myself have a hard time to align between realization and belief. Looking at the next few years we seem to be at the cusp of something major - a tectonic shift it seems. It’s a convergence of AI (from self driving cars to GPT) , robotics , massively scalable computing , large scale space exploration .... who knows what the possibilities are in 10 years. The first iPhone came out in 2007. Look at the phone in your hand now. What it can do is just amazing.
I used to read pop-sci mags and get excited about the latest advancements in X, but nowadays I feel one of two things about X:

1. Neither I, nor my friends will ever be able to afford X

2. X is going to make my life worse

Usually I feel both.


"X is never quite what it seems"

X comes with subscription, microtransactions, ads, wants your personal data, and/or is the result of regulatory capture.
X comes with its own blockchain.
the troubling part: not at first.

Then when something is "normal" stuff is "added" and when people complain they are ridiculed by others who don't realize or don't care.

I think we should normalize a little common sense. You know, the golden rule.

If you would not snoop on other people, why should other people snoop on you (phone app, iot, car, whatever)

Sounds like your brain is looking for the darkest sides of everything. How do you feel about life in general? Are you sure you are not depressed?
Please do not conflate cynicism with depression, or try to diagnose people with medical conditions over the internet.
1) I don't 2) why not exactly? Of course a diagnosis over internet shouldn't ever be taken as a ground truth, but it can many times give meaningful thoughts and provide good perspective and information.
I’m sure at some point people said similar things about stuff like hot shower and telephone.
There's a chapter in one of the Great Brain books where their family is the first in town to get an indoor flush toilet. Everyone else is agog--why would you want a filthy, stinky outhouse inside your house?
Sure. Now imagine the toilet came as a subscription service, with DRM restricting you to premium brands of toilet paper and cleaning products, and built-in sensors that secretly analyze the chemical composition of your excrement, collecting data which the vendor sends to advertisers. Oh, and the toilet is always connected, which means it'll stop working if you lose power, Internet, or if the vendor abandons it or goes out of business.

That's the problem I have with technology today. All new inventions come with some degree of this bullshit. I'm no longer excited about any new technology - because the businesses productizing it will almost surely ruin it.

There was a time when inventions where products. The businesses saw their inventions as products, to be sold to people, which would become owners. Now it seems that businesses are constantly trying to invent new... crowbars, to leverage their users in novel ways. Products belong to the past, there are only services. /rant
I think it is more of a land grab, "capturing the value" as it were, that's prompting this rot in the tech industry. And as with anything on the Internet, it is either ruined by the advertisment dollars or pressures of taking VC money.

The new-age investors (post-2005), though, "founder friendly", tend to somehow favour extreme user hostile behaviour because "growth".

You’re not wrong, but my philosophy is to use these things only as long as they’re friendly. I had “free” Netflix until a few days ago. I enjoyed it, but not enough to subscribe. I’ll just move on.
You can’t use some restrooms in China without a face scan.
Not too far off from Japanese toilets
> All new inventions come with some degree of this bullshit. I'm no longer excited about any new technology - because the businesses productizing it will almost surely ruin it.

Then you could consider company Purism,, who offers lifetime updates for their devices, FLOSS, no DRM.

I love Purism with that stance. There are a handful of other companies that I consider "sustainable businesses", based on proper ethics and values and following humane practices. They are hard to come by, and often struggle to get enough revenue. I would like to do ever more biz with these type of companies, prefer and consume their products to the other BS.

Where can I find lists, directories and such that keep track of these sustainable businesses? Any good resources around?


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