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If someone weaponizes our robots, we'll be really, really sad, says Boston Dynamics

Maybe finally a good use for DRM, eh? Preventing armed modifications

Boston Dynamics and five other robot makers have promised in an open letter they won't allow their machines to be weaponized by either themselves or their customers. 

Yes, never mind robotics corporations tooling up their equipment for militaries and other organizations, some people are trying to modify commercial robots by attaching their own weapons, Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter said.

"We are concerned about recent increases in makeshift efforts by individuals attempting to weaponize commercially available robots," he told Axios on Thursday. "For this technology to be broadly accepted throughout society, the public needs to know they can trust it. And that means we need policy that prohibits bad actors from misusing it."

The five other orgs promising along with Boston Dynamics to not arm their machines and to prevent buyers from hacking together their own killer robots are: Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Unitree Robotics, and non-profit organization Open Robotics.

We will carefully review our customers' intended applications to avoid potential weaponization

"We pledge that we will not weaponize our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots or the software we develop that enables advanced robotics and we will not support others to do so," the robotics corporations wrote in their open letter. 

"When possible, we will carefully review our customers' intended applications to avoid potential weaponization. We also pledge to explore the development of technological features that could mitigate or reduce these risks. To be clear, we are not taking issue with existing technologies that nations and their government agencies use to defend themselves and uphold their laws."

That may be one DRM measure some of us can get behind: the prevention of customizations that add weapons and other harmful stuff to robots. We also can't help but think of being punched in the face by a Boston Dynamics bot, which would require little or no alterations to the hardware and be rather, er, life changing for the victim. How one would mitigate that seems non-trivial.

Don't forget, no matter how fancy they dance and move, Boston Dynamics' robots are ultimately controlled by remote operators. The machines have onboard software and hardware to make the calculations required to walk, run, jump, crawl, and so on in real time in uneven environments and conditions, and can be trained to perform more complex moves, but they aren't advanced AI systems. They go where they are told, and they hit who they're told to hit.

The six robotics orgs also urged fellow companies, developers, researchers, and netizens to not build, support, or enable the development of weapons-strapped robots, and called for governments to introduce policies regulating the industry. These makeshift weapons can be misused by individuals or administrations to violate civil rights, they argue.

"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," the group wrote.

The letter argued weaponization will erode trust in these emerging technologies, and negative public perception could hamper future development and prevent companies from working on robots that are beneficial to society.

"We are convinced that the benefits for humanity of these technologies strongly outweigh the risk of misuse, and we are excited about a bright future in which humans and robots work side by side to tackle some of the world's challenges," they concluded. ®

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