The big picture: The leading companies in the robotics industry want to dissuade people of turning harmless machines into weapons with killing intents. General-purpose robots equipped with powerful firearms could spell doom for the very future of the industry, they say.
A coalition of robotics companies led by Boston Dynamics published an open letter addressed to the rest of the industry and the public, lamenting the risk that "general purpose" robots could soon become a cheap and very effective weapon of mass destruction. An outlook to avoid, the letter says, because the very future of robotic technology could be jeopardized as a result.
The Open Letter to the Robotics Industry and our Communities is signed by Boston Dynamics, Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics, and Unitree Robotics, emphasizing the benefits brought by modern robots to society. The six companies are busy introducing new generations of advanced mobile robotics to the world, the letter adds, making the autonomous devices more accessible, easier to operate, affordable and adaptable than previous generations.
These new robots can navigate into previous inaccessible locations, they will benefit the industry, and could be used as "companions" in people's homes. And yet, the letter concedes, the emergence of advanced mobile robots offers the possibility of misuse. New generation automatons could be used by "untrustworthy" people to invade civil rights or to threaten, to harm, or intimidate.
Robotics companies are particularly concerned about weaponization, with autonomous or remotely-controlled robots designed for industrial or rescue applications modified to carry weapons and turned into tools of destruction.
Adding firearms or other weapons to general purpose robots available to the public, raises "new risks of harm and serious ethical issues" the letter warns. The freshly-armed robots will also damage public trust in the technology thus threatening all the benefits robots could bring to society.
This anti-weaponization position has been expressed in the past, but according to the letter, there is increasing public concern caused by recent attempts "by a small number of people" to turn industrial and rescue robots into deadly assault and killing machines. Boston Dynamics and other companies have pledged not to weaponize their robots or the software they are based on, and they will certainly not support other people or organizations to do so.