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Boston Dynamics and Others Sing Letter to Never Arm Robots

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A photo of a robot dog training with a group of soldiers.

This is fine.
Photo: Axel Heimken/AFP (Getty Images)

By now, everyone’s seen the videos of Boston Dynamics robot dog, Spot. It can walk, run, hop on two legs and even danceit’s mighty impressive. But with every video released by the American robotics firm, it felt like we were edging closer to the ultimate goal of four-legged drones that could be equipped for battle and replace soldiers. A pretty terrifying idea.

However, Boston Dynamics has come together with a coalition of other robotics experts to plead with companies across the sector to please never give the robots guns. The letter, which was first reported by Axios, has been signed by Boston Dynamics, Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Unitree, Clearpath and Open Robotics.

In the open letter, the six companies said:

“As with any new technology offering new capabilities, the emergence of advanced mobile robots offers the possibility of misuse. Untrustworthy people could use them to invade civil rights or to threaten, harm, or intimidate others. One area of particular concern is weaponization.

“We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues.

“Weaponized applications of these newly-capable robots will also harm public trust in the technology in ways that damage the tremendous benefits they will bring to society. For these reasons, we do not support the weaponization of our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots.”

A photo of a room full of Unitree robots with soft toys on their backs.

Unitree would rather give its robots soft toys.
Photo: VCG/VCG (Getty Images)

The move is a good one, if slightly surprising as Boston Dynamics has previously carried out testing of its robots with the NYPD and the French Military. But a report from The Verge points out that the ‘bots weren’t armed in either instance. Instead, they were used for reconnaissance.

The same is true for Clearpath Robotics, which previously used its robots in an unarmed test with the U.S. Army.

But despite these past ties to the military, the robotics firms say enough is enough. Now, they’ve promised that they “will not weaponize our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots.”

To do this, the six companies will “review our customers’ intended applications” to try and “avoid potential weaponization.” The companies will also explore new technologies that could prevent their creations from becoming militarized.

A photo of a Ghost Robotics dog with a gun strapped to its back.

Ghost Robotics is all for giving to robots guns, actually.
Photo: Chris Jung/NurPhoto (Getty Images)

But the move almost certainly will not be enough to stop the impending onslaught of military robots. As The Verge reports that U.S. firm Ghost Robotics is a notable omission from the letter.

This company also creates four-legged robots but has previously focused on military and government sales. The Verge reports:

“The company’s bots are being tested by both the US Space Force and US Air Force to patrol bases, and by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to patrol the US border with Mexico. Ghost Robotics’ machines have also been fitted with guns by arms manufacturers, and the company’s CEO, Jiren Parikh, has said the firm never tries to restrict customers’ uses.”

So, while it’s a step in the right direction to see, arguably, one of the most famous robotics firms in America pledge to never give its creations guns, it’s certainly no guarantee that armed robots aren’t on the horizon.

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