Sympathy for the Metal: Boston Dynamics releases video of new anthropomorphic robot

By Jillian Jennett
Staff Writer

An engineer prods the robot, Atlas, with a hockey stick
Photo: Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics, robotics company and viral video powerhouse, released a new robot designed to be remarkably human.

Atlas, the company’s premiere anthropomorphic robot, has been given an update in its next generation. The video showing its progress, released last month, has already gathered over 14 million views.

The robot, standing upright with articulating knees and elbows, takes a journey outside in the woods of Massachusetts. It can be seen trudging through snow and saving itself before it falls on the icy terrain. It can even be seen walking side by side with one of its creators, making it remarkably, for lack of a better word, human.

Another notable part of the video is the robot dutifully picking up ten-pound boxes and having its creators smack them out of its “hands” and pushing the robot over. This has caused some upset among the online community. Many have a great deal of sympathy for the robot and have called the treatment of slapping it around with a hockey stick “the most Boston way to harass a robot” and they’re definitely not wrong.

Why do we feel so much empathy for this creation? It’s not that it looks human; the most human thing about it is the fact that it stands upright, topping out at 5’9” and weighing a very human 180 lbs, and has reticulating arms and legs. Its movements are robotic and its actions are awkward.

Logically, we should not feel sympathy or empathy for this robot, but here we are as a species, reacting to a robot as if it was a person.

Maybe the inevitable robot takeover won’t be so bad if all the robots look like Atlas.