HuffPost Live had an interesting discussion on Tuesday surrounding technology and warfare, focusing specifically on the development of the DARPA robotics project best known for its two YouTube sensation prototypes Big Dog and Alpha Dog.
These robots resemble headless four legged animals and can eerily mimic the reactions of living creatures to maintain stability when walking up steep terrain, on ice, or even when someone attempts to push one over. Watch this video for some context of what they can do:
For many, their mind immediately goes to the potential warfare applications of such technology. One can imagine a platoon of weaponized Big Dogs galloping over a ridge and unleashing all of Hell’s fury on some unsuspecting insurgents. Others speculate that these robots will be adopted in a law enforcement capacity and will soon be patrolling occupied or dangerous neighborhoods both abroad and possibly at home. RoboCop 2 particularly comes to mind in the latter scenario. These possibilities no doubt come from being steeped in a scifi culture, but also from a contemporary (and extremely legitimate) debate about not only how technology is applied in warfare, but how technology is shaping warfare.
No doubt military use is why this technology is being developed and we should ask these important ethical questions. However it would be a mistake to pigeon hole our thinking. We should think about the humanitarian and scientific use of such technology as well. Researchers in the Antarctic could take advantage of the robot’s sure footing to collect samples and make observations in places humans cannot go. New areas of Mars could be explored with a walking rover. Robots could be used in disaster areas to locate survivors. In a security context, these robots could use their precision steps to map and navigate mine fields, opening up areas for re-population and development. Further down the line it seems feasible that transport for the disabled or even prosthetics could be adapted from this technology. The possibilities seem endless. Let’s not forget that the Internet began as a DARPA project.
This is all to say that we should think broadly and with optimism about emerging technologies. After all, not every technological development, even those with a military origin, are the sign of the robot apocalypse.
Finally, in the event that quadrupedal robot armies become self-aware, hostile, and commence an attempt at world conquest, Star Wars has provided us with the tactical knowledge for how to fight back.
Photo credit: nic_r