Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot exists in two realities. In one, it’s a terrifying harbinger of a dystopian future when robots hunt and kill humans. In the other, it’s the plaything of YouTubers who teach this robot quadruped to “piss beer” on command.
The latter example comes from the talented, imaginative, piss-focused YouTuber Michael Reeves, who managed to get his hands on a unit before using his tech expertise and dirty mind to turn Spot into the ultimate drinking buddy. With some quick code and a few feet of tubing, Spot can identify cups on the floor, position itself over them, and release a stream of piss beer into the awaiting receptacle. It’s the future Isaac Asimov could only dream of.
As Reeves notes in the video, it’s hardly a polished product. “Piss bot is working flawlessly. 35 percent of the time,” he says. But it’s still an absolutely amazing thing to make.
Now, just to put on my “I’m a journalist, and I like to overthink things” hat for a second: what also fascinates me about this video is what it means for Boston Dynamics. This is a firm that has previously worked to tightly control footage of its machines and their public reception. Since making Spot commercially available, though, it’s had to relinquish some of this control, leading to instances where its machinery is used in ways it doesn’t approve of (like equipping Spot with a paintball gun). This includes non-jokey military uses. When we reported on the French army using Spot in simulated combat exercises last week, Boston Dynamics told us it was unaware these particular tests were being carried out (though it did know the French military had access to its machines). Is greater access to Spot going to create more problems for the company in the future?
Spot is definitely not easy to get a hold of. It costs $75,000 for one. But it’s plainly much more accessible than it was a year ago. That has the potential to not only create PR headaches for Boston Dynamics but also genuine enforcement issues. How much visibility does the company have over its robots and how they’re being used? What happens if someone uses it in the wrong way? This doesn’t have to be malicious for people to get hurt. I, for one, cringed watching Reeves grapple with Spot by putting his hands inside the machine’s joints at around the 12-minute mark. Those are called “pinch points” for a reason.
So right now, Spot exists in two realities: as a threat and as a joke. What happens if the line between them blurs?