One famous robot / cyborg stormed theaters in 1984, with his deadpan catchphrase “I’ll be back”, transforming a painfully stoic Austrian actor into an international superstar.
Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator. The six foot stack of murderous cyborg who made us check under our beds for killer robots, and convinced every single person named Sarah Connor to have their name be removed from the phone book.
But late at night, you may have found yourself wondering – are there really killer terminator robots out there? What’s the military up to these days? And how much gel does Arnie need to keep his hair like that?
The Evolution Of Robotics
When the public first began seeing robots on the screen, it was in classic movies such as “Metropolis”, or “The Day The Earth Stood Still”. Look at what the robot Maria in Metropolis looked like below, when the movie came out in 1927 :
Now fast-forward 64 years to 1991, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The T-800 looks a lot scarier than Maria, but it also looks a lot more like a machine. You can imagine Cyberdine engineers obsessing over hydraulic placement and sensors. The T-800 looks like something you could actually build.
You might think that this is all confined to the big screen, and the overactive imaginations of science-fiction writers. However, robots are being developed, built, and tested at this very moment, and some of them are closer to the T-800 than you might believe.
The Drone Wars
These days, a lot of bombing missions, which in the past were done by the various air forces around the world, are now being done by remote-control robots.
Drone strikes have been going on since after 9/11, dropping bombs on targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and probably other places). Since these drones have the capability to kill innocent people, they have understandably become controversial.
Controversy won’t stop the drone program, though, for the simple reason that it saves the lives of pilots. Furthermore, drones have the capability to approach a target silently from very high up and drop its payload before the target realizes what is happening.
The next step will be drones with artificial intelligence, without the need for a human operator. Some of these are already being designed and built. And remember the Avengers movie, when the flying aircraft carrier rises into the air? Now the US Government wants to build them for drones. At that point, we really will be heading into Skynet territory.
Who’s Building These Robots?
A US government agency called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and a civilian company called Boston Dynamics (no doubt they work hand-in-hand with one another). DARPA is the research arm of the US Department of Defense, and Boston Dynamics is a company now owned by Google. Together, they are making machines which may form the foundation of robots just as capable (and terrifying) as the Terminator that scared us all those years ago.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Imagine a robot that can march into toxic wreckage to look for survivors or repair leaks. Or robots that can comb through the wreckage of houses effortlessly to look for victims after an earthquake. The uses in warfare hardly need to be mentioned. Drones replaced planes: these things could replace everybody.
But don’t fear the knock on the door yet, asking if your name is Say-RAH Con-NAR. From the looks of things, some of these robots are currently having problems walking in a straight line. And others have to be held up with cables.
So Let’s See Them Then!
What you’re about to see are the robots that DARPA and Boston Dynamics have chosen to reveal to the public. Obviously there’s no way to know if they are working on anything more advanced behind the scenes, so maybe forget what I just said. If you see a big sweaty man wearing a black leather jacket and dark sunglasses, tell him you don’t know me.
The little guy at the start isn’t that scary (you could just stand on him), but the robots at 4 minutes in, and 6 minutes in, are scary as hell. If this is what they are like now in 2015? I am dreading 2020 when these guys learn to think for themselves.
And now here’s Wildcat, who if he doesn’t learn to keep the noise down, will definitely not be able to sneak up on anyone…
And here is ATLAS, a good looking robotic son-of-a-gun!
So, if you’re wondering whether the military is making a terminator, the answer is “yes, totally”. Remember, the D in DARPA stands for “Defense”, and no matter how many humanitarian reasons we can think of for developing these robots, ultimately it’s going to come back to a matter of war, because that’s what it’s good for (see what I did there?). The military will use these things sooner or later, and then? Well…..
Now it’s your turn: Do you think the military is prepared to use these technologies responsibly? Do you think these DARPA robots will be smart enough to work on their own? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.