Have you heard? Google -- the company invading your privacy to better serve ads to you and mind-boggling profits to itself -- is partnering with Foxconn, a company employing a million workers it doesn't want. This unholy union will not only birth all kinds of new and definitely malevolent robots, it's also conveniently funded by the U.S. military. Conspiracy theorists must be frothing in fits of self-righteous glee, sweating beneath tinfoil hats, endlessly exhorting "I told you so," and retreating further into the bunkers they built across our fruited plains.
But maybe they aren't so far off. This is the perfect storm of technology-worshipping billionaires in bed with Orwellian-minded government security officials, both allied with foreign industrial powers developing experimental technology to replace us. The establishment might finally be showing its hand.
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Right now we're unconcerned because robots will only supplant a million poor Taiwanese workers with whom we don't connect in any way until we touch anything vaguely electronic. But that will change when this technology crosses the ocean and lands on your job.
Some of the spookiest examples come from Boston Dynamics, which Google acquired last year at the tail end of its bot-buying binge. As survivalist rhetoric tells us, BD is a government front building an army of robot models, each with a different military focus.
Meet the LS3
Among BD's offerings, the LS3 is the most talked-about model because it's being field tested with the Marines in their search for a few good robots. This bot has four legs and can climb over rough terrain behind a squad of Marines carrying their important nonweapon gear, probably at a cost of a mere $20 million per robot, which has to be cheaper than draping Kevlar over a live mule. The LS3 is also superior to biology in that an actual donkey might announce our troops' positions with loud braying when the bullets start flying.
Bots are definitely safer in those conditions because, like most robots, the LS3 is brainlessly following, step for ominous step, a signal transponder mounted in one of the Marines' backpacks -- no braying, no pesky self-preservation instinct. The worst that might happen is the bot-pack is accidentally left on the deployment helicopter and the mecha-mule blindly chases it all the way back to base, flattening local villages and pre-schools as it goes.
However, the Marines are hoping that Boston Dynamics finds a way to affix a machine gun turret on the LS3, which lends wonderful additional blood-letting potential to the scenario. Keep in mind there's probably only a 50 percent chance of that happening, given the stellar reputation of early-stage military technology in the field.
I'm all for robots that make life easier and safer on the young men and women we're continuously sending into hot zones to protect our fossil fuel supply. But if I'm a militia member awaiting the fascist Big Brother takeover somewhere in the lonesome wilds, I'm a little daunted at the concept of defending my 10-year supply of Dinty Moore Beef Stew against a battalion of four- to six-legged, crawling, and entirely bulletproof battlebots, as I clutch to the modified, 50-round Armalite I originally bought as a hunting rifle. Little do those forest-dwelling rebels realize that Marine-protecting, survivalist-crushing logistics-cum-battle robots aren't all Google has in its arsenal.