Late-nineties bash’em crash’em classic Robot Wars disappeared from our TV screens earlier this year after the series re-launch failed to capture hearts and minds with a new generation of viewers.
There’s no telling exactly why the Robot Wars re-launch flopped, but we think it has something to do with the rise of smarter, scarier automatons appearing in different places.
Compared with the latter crop of new-age killer androids, fighters like Chaos 2, Hypnodisc and Sir Killalot seem a little uninspired.
For one thing, the British made robots were slow and quite often prone to failure.
In Japan, the equivalent ‘robot sumo’ competitions are a lot faster. In some cases, they’re difficult to watch.
Another difference between Robot Wars and the Japanese robots is that in Japan, the wrestling bots are pre-programmed to move, so there is no direct human control over them.
Being pre-programmed means that the robots can move much faster and it is one of the reasons we think that new-age robots can be so scary.
Of course, the wrestling robots above aren’t particularly big or menacing.
But what if the same basic principles were applied in a meaner shell?
Atlas is the world’s most dynamic humanoid. He is made by Boston Dynamics, a company that will appear again and again in this blog post.
The robot is capable of a wide range of movements, performing many tasks in the same way that a human would.
He can jog and jump.
And even do a backflip, which is a little unsettling.
It’s not altogether clear what these robots would be used for. Some people are concerned that these robots will take over repetitive manual jobs such as shelf stacking.
But even the most advanced humanoids have their problems as you can see in the video below.
Other Boston Dynamics robots have impressive physical attributes.
Built for any terrain, their WildCat robot can run up to 19mph – but they want to boost this up to 50mph soon.
Their heavy lifting LS3 robot meanwhile is designed to assist soldiers by carrying up to 400lbs of payload for over 20 miles without refuelling.
But the scariest thing about these Boston Dynamics robots, we think is how intelligent they are.
Here are two robots working together to overcome an obstacle.
They’re persistent as well and won’t be knocked off easily if you want to prevent them carrying out a task.
Of course, many people will be pleased to see these robots pushing the limits of technology and advancing our engineering capabilities.
But others are more cautious about the future.
Technology evangelist Elon Musk believes it is only a matter of time before these robots get fixed with deadly weapons and become really dangerous.
This is nothing. In a few years, that bot will move so fast you’ll need a strobe light to see it. Sweet dreams… https://t.co/0MYNixQXMw
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 26, 2017
He and others have called on the UN to ban killer robots, specifically those that are autonomous and can act without direct human control – like a Roomba but deadlier.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots campaigns for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development and production of fully autonomous weapons.
These are weapons that operate on their own without meaningful human control, meaning that humans could be ‘out-of-the-loop’ when it comes to targeting and attack decisions on the battlefield.
After a South Korean university recently partnered with a defence company, more than 50 top academics signed a letter to boycott the university over feats that they could accelerate the development of autonomous killer robots.
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), a respected university, raised some eyebrows when a lab at the university developed this giant human riding robot, which looks like it has come straight out of an old MechWarrior computer game.
Also developed in Korea, this robot looks even more ferocious. Although some commentators have raised doubts about the authenticity of the bot.
Not every robot is capable of world destruction though. Many robots are built to complete much simpler goals.
In pop culture hit cartoon Rick and Morty, genius scientist Rick confronts robot sentience when he creates an intelligent robot with the sole purpose of passing butter.
“What is my purpose,” the robot asks its creator sat at the breakfast table. “Pass the butter” replies Rick.
After completing its task the robot asks again, “what is my purpose?”. After Rick clarified that his purpose is the “pass butter,” the robot looks down and puts its head in its hands “Oh my god”.
When this security bot ‘committed suicide’ by falling into a water fountain, some questioned whether it had developed sentience and thought better of serving humanity.
For our money, it just didn’t see the step and fell in.
Our D.C. office building got a security robot. It drowned itself.
We were promised flying cars, instead we got suicidal robots. pic.twitter.com/rGLTAWZMjn
— Bilal Farooqui (@bilalfarooqui) July 17, 2017
Occasionally, something happens that makes the world think it is on the brink of a Terminator-style robopocalypse.
The below tweet caused quite a stir until people realised that it was just an unfortunately named technology reporter tweeting about an accident in a German car factory.
A robot has killed a worker in a VW plant in Germany http://t.co/RRdCnNmbsj
— Sarah O’Connor (@sarahoconnor_) July 1, 2015
@sarahoconnor_ Ok. I should have thought about my name & its associations before tweeting this!
— Sarah O’Connor (@sarahoconnor_) July 1, 2015
Creating almost functional robots has become something of a past time for some creators. YouTube starlet Simone Giertz has produced dozens of robots that help her:
And much more.
Someone even used a ‘shitty robot’ to try and win a date with her on Reddit.
Yes, robots are a scary business. We have all seen the films – from Terminator to Space Odyssey, The Day the Earth Stood Still to Ex Machina, these kinds of killer robots seem much closer than they did even a few years ago.
Because companies and universities are working on technology that could so easily be weaponised, there is still some important policy work to be done to prevent android disasters. But it is worth remembering that many of these robots are not yet perfect. World domination is still some time off.