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Meet Spot, the 160 lbs dog robot that can run, climb stairs and has an uncanny ability to maintain its balance.
Designed by robotics company Boston Dynamics, there were heated discussions online when Google bought the company in 2013, with accusations that Google had gone against its “Don’t be evil” motto by purchasing a company that had worked with the U.S. military and had close ties with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
But more recently, the conversation flared up again, most of it stemming from the video released this week showing Boston Dynamics employees trying to kick Spot over in order to show how robust it is. The video spread around the Internet like wildfire and raised questions about ethics, the future of robotics and Google’s intentions.
As robots begin to act and look more and more like living things, it’s increasingly hard not to see them in that way. And while in principle kicking a robot is not the abuse of a living thing, after watching the video many felt uncomfortable.
Animal rights group PETA gave its view, reminding us that although many thought it inappropriate to kick a robot dog, abuse of actual dogs was a bigger, and ongoing issue:
“PETA deals with actual animal abuse every day, so we won’t lose sleep over this incident,” the group said. “But while it’s far better to kick a four-legged robot than a real dog, most reasonable people find even the idea of such violence inappropriate, as the comments show.”
Spot is a robot, not a real dog, after all.
Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, UK, told CNN: “The only way it’s unethical is if the robot could feel pain.”
He pointed out our tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. “We as humans attribute human qualities to many things; designers have been using this for years – even cars are designed to look like animals. The more lifelike, or animal like, it is, the more we attribute those qualities on to it,” he said.
“For me as a roboticist that is quite an impressive test, usually when you kick a robot like that it falls over.”