If only dogs had created them, then we could rest assured of their loyalty.
Alas, the robotics company Boston Dynamics actually created AI-enabled robot dogs that derive their information and commands from human sources. That fact alone almost guarantees their eventual misuse.
Now, in a development sure to exacerbate what some regard as a “creepy” factor, the robot dogs can use AI to assume different personalities and speak in different voices.
In a video uploaded to YouTube last week, Boston Dynamics’ principal software engineer Matt Klingensmith demonstrated how one robot dog behaved and sounded when it assumed those personalities.
“May I have the pleasure of knowing your names?” the robot dog asked in a British accent. Engineers called this personality the “Fancy Butler.”
As it conducted a tour of the room while walking on all fours, the robot answered to the name “Spot.” It also answered Klingensmith’s questions and even expressed gratitude when the human handler complimented its accent.
“Why thank you, Mr. Matt. My linguistics have been meticulously crafted to provide an authentic British experience,” Spot said to laughter from Klingensmith.
That stilted reply, of course, hardly gives the impression of a machine capable of assuming multiple personalities.
As Klingensmith explained, however, new developments in generative AI technology have allowed Spot to create poetry.
To demonstrate, Spot next assumed the personality “Precious Metal Cowgirl,” an imaginary prospector. While describing a pile of rocks, Spot reflected on “her” prospecting days, when she “sifted” through such rocks “looking for gold nuggets.”
Then, software engineer Radhika Agrawal asked Spot for a haiku.
“Levers, valves and wood. Robots grasp as best they could. In this tech-filled hood,” Spot replied while staying in “Precious Metal Cowgirl” character.
OK. Color me impressed.
Spot, however, had only scratched the surface of its personality-shifting capabilities.
Klingensmith proceeded to explain that at Boston Dynamics Spot functions as a tour guide. Many of the questions Spot answers, therefore, pertain to immediate physical surroundings.
“Ah, splendid. A fellow explorer with a camera. Are you here to document our thrilling journey through this technological wonderland?” Spot asked while assuming the personality of a 1920s archaeologist.
Spot then adopted the personality of a Shakespearean time traveler, and Klingensmith asked him how he enjoyed his job.
“To guide and share, in verse and tale, is a task I relish without fail. In steel and wire, my heart doth beat. In this role I find delight complete,” Spot replied.
Klingensmith explained these remarkable transformations.
“We just added one sentence like ‘You are a 1920s archaeologist,’ ‘You are a Shakespearean actor,’ ‘You are a butler,’ right? And it would come up with these crazy personalities. It would incorporate its backstory into what it was seeing, reinterpret things it was seeing. It was pretty incredible,” he said.
One of those “crazy personalities” included a sarcastic character whom the engineers simply called “Josh.”
“Hey Spot, what else do you see?” Klingensmith asked sarcastic “Josh.”
“Well, Matt. I see the unfathomable void of my existence reflected in this QR code-filled board. Oh, and also a large window,” “Josh” replied.
Then, “Josh” delivered a haiku of his own:
“Generator hums. Low in a room devoid of joy. Much like my soul, Matt.”
OK. That defies belief. A snarky robot dog strikes me as hilarious but also a bit creepy.
Speaking of which, Spot also uses word associations to respond to questions that have no factual answer.
“One of the things we asked was, ‘Hey, can you show us your parents?'” Klingensmith recalled. “And it walked over to the old Spot exhibit and showed us Spot V. 1.”
Next, Spot assumed the personality of a teenage girl. Why an engineer would prompt a robot to do such a thing beats me.
“Like, isn’t it super cool how robots can be involved in so many industries?” Spot asked.
“Nature Documentary,” which sounded like a blend of “Fancy Butler” and “1920s Archaeologist,” rounded out the demonstrated personalities.
Klingensmith concluded with a vague yet optimistic assessment of the robots’ future utility.
“We see these AI technologies being useful in lots of environments. It’s hard to know what kind of capabilities will even be available in the next few years,” he said.
According to Business Insider, Boston Dynamics partnered with the AI software company Levatas to provide Spot with ChatGPT and other functions. Reactions to the results of that partnership, however, have varied.
Business Insider, for instance, also speculated that as Spot’s applications multiply, “maybe people will find Fancy Butler robot less creepy.”
The technology news-focused The Verge, however, described the Boston Dynamics demonstration as a “somewhat unsettling video.”
In any case, while Spot’s personalities are new, the AI function and ChatGPT are not.
In an April video posted to X engineers demonstrated the integration of ChatGPT. At that time, however, the robot dogs spoke only with a generic female-sounding voice.
We integrated ChatGPT with our robots.
We had a ton of fun building this!
Read on for the details: pic.twitter.com/DRC2AOF0eU
— Santiago (@svpino) April 25, 2023
The Byte, a futuristic science and technology news site, reacted to this development by noting that many people already found the robot dogs “creepy enough” and half-jokingly suggested that those dogs have brought us “one tiny step closer to the robot uprising,” a reference to the blockbuster 1984 film “The Terminator,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which robots became self-aware and launched a war against humans.
Philip Bump of The Washington Post also made a subtle reference to the “Terminator” theme.
“You know that robot dog that triggers lots of ‘here come our future overlords’ jokes when new videos drop? It has AI now,” Bump posted in April.
You know that robot dog that triggers lots of “here come our future overlords” jokes when new videos drop?
It has AI now. https://t.co/QCpSNmNYAr
— Philip Bump (@pbump) April 27, 2023
Spot’s applications, of course, will make all the difference.
Business Insider noted, for instance, that the robot dogs have been used in a Boston hospital to mitigate the dangers of close contact during the COVID scare, as well as in New Zealand for herding sheep.
On the other hand, The Verge described it as “a bit hard not to think about” Spot’s potential appeal to law enforcement and the military.
The bottom line, of course, is that any technology developed and controlled by human beings will also be abused by them.
For now, however, I am inclined to marvel at the wondrous human mind and suppress alarm in favor of humility. After all, human beings have lived on this earth for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. And only now have we managed to confer what we call “intelligence” upon something inanimate.
God, however, did that in an instant. All of that intelligence — ours and Spot’s — comes from Him.
That alone should diminish our fears.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.