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Alphabet built a new humanlike robot and then immediately bullied it

Boston Dynamics, the robotics subsidiary of Alphabet, released a video today (Feb. 23) showing off a new version of its human-shaped Atlas robot. The new model appears to be lighter, quieter and more nimble than its predecessor, and to show off its abilities, Boston Dynamics decided to torment the robot that just seems to want to help out.

In the video, Atlas is first seen next to its robot siblings at Boston Dynamics’ headquarters. It’s smaller and more streamlined than the last version of Atlas that was widely used at last summer’s DARPA Robotics Challenge, now coming in at a very human sized 5′ 9″ and 180 pounds. The frisky robot is shown walking out of the company’s office, braving the Massachusetts winter for a stroll through the woods. We’ve seen previous versions of Atlas that were able to navigate their way through the forest before, but the new Atlas seems a little unsure on its feet, as if a robot bartender said it was cut off, took away its keys, and said it had to walk home. Atlas never falls over, but comes really close a few times.

Perhaps this is why Atlas’ creators so mercilessly mess with it later in the video. Perhaps it’s the day after Atlas’ drunken tirade, and its coworkers want to get back at it. Atlas is shown working, somewhat awkwardly, stacking boxes, and just when it seems the robot had got its bearings back, a human with a hockey stick comes out of nowhere to harass it. The human knocks the box out of Atlas’ hands, and pushes the bot back, but Atlas recovers and gets back to its work. It’s just a step away from a researcher taking one of Atlas’ arms, whacking the robot with it and saying, “Why are you hitting yourself?” The human keeps moving the box away right as Atlas goes to grab it, shuffling it across the floor with his hockey stick. He keeps knocking it and moving it, and when Atlas finally recovers, the human comes back with a giant tube and knocks Atlas to the ground from behind.

Atlas takes a moment as it lays face down on the ground, perhaps taking stock of the day, and then quickly jerks up and gets back on its feet without any help. Atlas then walks right out the door again, perhaps because its shift is over, possibly because it’s just fed up with its coworkers, or it’s decided it’s finally time to start the robot uprising and is off to go find its relatives.

Boston Dynamics has a history of testing its robots’ resilience with hazing, as if the company was trying to start some sort of robot fraternity. Hopefully these tests will come in handy when these robots are being used in disaster zones to save human lives. But if we keep bashing these robots, they might not be so interested in saving humans in the future.

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