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‘Shoot on sight’: Boston Dynamics robot dog spotted out on city street triggers fear — and defensiveness

A Canadian Twitter user posted video of the four-legged yellow robot ambling down the sidewalk on Thursday, though it’s not clear where it was actually filmed. The person taking the footage, though initially startled, opts for a friendly approach, addressing the quadruped with “Hello friend!

The dog-bot turns toward the cameraperson and appears to snap a photo before walking away.

Boston Dynamics’ robot dogs have been deployed in Singapore to enforce social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, and some US police departments have acquired their own, causing consternation among civil liberties groups. However, the four-legged model has been available to the public since June for anyone with $74,500 to buy one, meaning this particular Spot might have belonged to a private citizen. 

The clip polarized social media users, many of whom were filled with horror at the sight of the seemingly autonomous metal canine. “Shoot on sight,” one said succinctly.

Many commented on Spot’s disarmingly cute appearance. “I hate this but I also kinda wanna sit on top of its back & go for a ride,” one user tweeted.

More than a few were reminded of the Black Mirror episode “Metalhead” — literally inspired by Boston Dynamics’ products — in which armed and extremely persistent robot dogs hunt and kill humans in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Spot’s defenders noted humans were already capable of doing plenty of damage without bringing robots into it, and insisted the technology should be embraced.

However, others more familiar with Spot’s military origins (and concepts like drone warfare) predicted the dogs would be armed and dangerous in no time.

Beneath its weirdly cute exterior, Spot contains advanced military technology. Its predecessor, the Big Dog, was unveiled in 2005 as a sort of pack mule capable of carrying equipment over unstable terrain and developed in partnership with NASA, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). However, the Big Dog was deemed too loud for combat and — supposedly — shelved.

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