The convergence between robots and humans is happening, albeit slowly. Science fiction writers like Issac Asimov and have been creating novels about it since the 1950s. TV shows like Black Mirror and Humans explore the darkness that may exist on the other side of the human/robot interface. Movies like I, Robot, starring Will Smith and based on the Asimov book of the same name, focus on the moral and ethical conundrums that will emerge as robots become more sophisticated. What if machines with advanced artificial intelligence turn out to be smarter than humans? It calls to mind the lyrics of Sting’s Brass Around Your Finger: “I will turn your face to alabaster, when you’ll find your servant is your master.”
The people at Boston Dynamics — founded by Alphabet — have been pushing the robotics and AI envelope for years. Alphabet sold the company to SoftBank which in turn sold it to Hyundai in 2020. Despite the change in ownership, the company has continued to showcase its talents in several videos. Beginning in October, 2018, it introduced a mechanical dog named Spot dancing to Uptown Funk, sung by Bruno Mars, and a humanoid robot called Atlas running and jumping over obstacles. A twerking dog may not be high on your list of things to wish for but Atlas could serve a useful role in the real world — running into burning building to rescue people, for instance, or replacing warriors on the battlefield. The 2018 videos are shown below.
Two years later, Atlas has developed further and gained a twin brother. The latest video from Boston Dynamics features a pair of Atlas robots grooving with Spot The Wonder Dog to the 1962 chart topping hit Do You Love Me? sung by The Contours, a one hit wonder group from Motown.
Some will watch the latest video and quibble, “Yeah, it’s a dancing robot. It just runs programs written by humans. Big deal.” But those people may be missing the larger picture. In 2021, robots and AI will become more sophisticated. Artificial intelligence has already advanced to the point where it can write its own programming. A dancing dog may just be a novelty or it could be a harbinger of things to come — a brave new world, so to speak, in which machines adapt to a warmer planet better than humans do.
While we are busy celebrating our ingenuity at building robots that can dance, we may be ignoring the evidence that our time on Earth is rapidly coming to an end. Literature and popular culture assume humans will always win against impossible odds but that may be the ultimate science fiction. When the next species to inhabit the Earth arrives several millenia from now when the Earth cools once again, the only record of human existence may reside within the digital pathways of the robots like Atlas we are creating in our image today.