Can We Trust Robots?

Robots will soon have the power of life and death over human beings. Are they ready? Are we?

2 min read
Can We Trust Robots?

opening illustration Illustration: Carl de Torres

In popular culture, robots tend to be either faultlessly loyal Victorian butlers or duplicitous psychopathological killers. Consider C3PO in Star Wars and Ava in Ex Machina. Or Robby in Forbidden Planet and HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Those depictions are of course just reflections of our own hopes and fears. But those fears, at least, have started leaking out into the real world. In recent years, dozens of tech and science luminaries have shared their apprehension of AI run amok—of superintelligent robots establishing a new world in which humans are at best irrelevant and at worst, extinct. Their fearful scenarios aren’t much different from the ones that sci-fi writers conjured decades ago. But their concerns have resonated widely because of the lofty status of some of these folks, who include Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and Elon Musk.

It’s not so much pedantic piffle. We and our machines are on the cusp of a new relationship. In the not-so-distant future, we will begin entrusting to robotic systems that are highly or completely autonomous such vital tasks as driving a car, performing surgery, and choosing when to apply lethal force in a war zone. For the first time, machines programmed, but not directly controlled, by us will be making life-or-death decisions in complicated, fluid, and unstructured environments. Undoubtedly, mistakes will be made and people will die. But in smaller numbers than do so now.

Getting from here to there won’t be straightforward. As we describe in this report, the challenges will span technical, regulatory, and even philosophical realms. Besides the coding and policy problems, the new autonomous systems will force us to confront deep moral quandaries. They might even tweak our sense of who we are. But in the end, the world will probably be a better place.

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Q&A With Co-Creator of the 6502 Processor

Bill Mensch on the microprocessor that powered the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64

5 min read
Bill Mensch

Few people have seen their handiwork influence the world more than Bill Mensch. He helped create the legendary 8-bit 6502 microprocessor, launched in 1975, which was the heart of groundbreaking systems including the Atari 2600, Apple II, and Commodore 64. Mensch also created the VIA 65C22 input/output chip—noted for its rich features and which was crucial to the 6502's overall popularity—and the second-generation 65C816, a 16-bit processor that powered machines such as the Apple IIGS, and the Super Nintendo console.

Many of the 65x series of chips are still in production. The processors and their variants are used as microcontrollers in commercial products, and they remain popular among hobbyists who build home-brewed computers. The surge of interest in retrocomputing has led to folks once again swapping tips on how to write polished games using the 6502 assembly code, with new titles being released for the Atari, BBC Micro, and other machines.

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Spot’s 3.0 Update Adds Increased Autonomy, New Door Tricks

Boston Dynamics' Spot can now handle push-bar doors and dynamically replan in complex environments

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Boston Dynamics

While Boston Dynamics' Atlas humanoid spends its time learning how to dance and do parkour, the company's Spot quadruped is quietly getting much better at doing useful, valuable tasks in commercial environments. Solving tasks like dynamic path planning and door manipulation in a way that's robust enough that someone can buy your robot and not regret it is, I would argue, just as difficult (if not more difficult) as getting a robot to do a backflip.

With a short blog post today, Boston Dynamics is announcing Spot Release 3.0, representing more than a year of software improvements over Release 2.0 that we covered back in May of 2020. The highlights of Release 3.0 include autonomous dynamic replanning, cloud integration, some clever camera tricks, and a new ability to handle push-bar doors, and earlier today, we spoke with Spot Chief Engineer at Boston Dynamics Zachary Jackowski to learn more about what Spot's been up to.

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Elephant Robotics Expands Lightweight Robot Arm Product Line

The company's myCobot series now features payloads from 250 g to 2 kg

3 min read

Elephant Robotics' myCobot series of lightweight 6-axis robots feature a payload of up to 3 kilograms and an innovative, compact base design that integrates all of the control electronics.

Elephant Robotics

This article is sponsored by Elephant Robotics.

Elephant Robotics is well known for its line of innovative products that help enhance manufacturing, assembly, education, and more. In 2020, Elephant Robotics released the world's smallest 6-axis robot arm: myCobot. Since its release, myCobot has sold over 5,000 units to clients all over the world.

Following the footprint of myCobot and to fulfill the demand from more users, Elephant Robotics is now expanding its Lightweight Robot Arm Product Line.

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