Read this before sharing that dancing robot meme your mom sent to you
I’m a collector, and I religiously hit yard sales every weekend during the summer and spring. Specifically, I collect magazines, the more arcane the better. And one thing I have learned in my time doing this is that one of the main reasons we have a country full of programmed morons is that most people consume trash news and information their entire lives, if they bother reading at all. Even worse, many have held onto their old Life magazines, one of the centerpieces of a bullshit warmongering American narrative that your average flag-waving schmuck takes at face value.
In the war against outright fake news, somehow many have forgotten that the bulk of media both then and now is basically pure propaganda. And if there’s a vehicle for bullshit that is even more insidious than old Life and Time rags, it’s 60 Minutes, whose crimes against reality and chickenshit reporting are well-documented by detractors on the left and right alike. On Sunday, following some routine military hero worship, the geriatric TV news magazine aired a piece about robot-maker Boston Dynamics so yellow, so transparently uncritical that we had to chime in for the Googling masses.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to watch the clip to see how awful it is. Star reporter Anderson Cooper neglects to mention the hundreds of millions of government dollars that have been spent on these robots over the past 30 years, and glosses over the fact that Boston Dynamics is now owned by Hyundai. As for the use of these robots by law enforcement, here’s the only mention:
Around 500 are out in the world. They sell for about $75,000 apiece, accessories cost extra. Some spots work at utility companies using mounted cameras to check on equipment. Others monitor construction sites and several police departments have tried them out to assist with investigations.
Yes, it’s that bad. But they dance! And it’s all about clicks and eyeballs, right? Well in that case, we have some articles to throw into the mix. The first of which, by UMass philosophy professor Gary Zabel, explains that while “there appears to be irrefutable evidence that the scientists at Boston Dynamics have created artificial organisms that match and even surpass their real-world human and animal counterparts, reinforcing the widespread belief that robots are about to ‘take over,’” “not all is as it seems.” (Last year, Zabel also wrote about the so-called social robot Anki, for us.)
Do I have your attention yet? Good, because if you want to know about Boston Dynamics, we also have this feature that ties its history to other questionable projects that originated in this region. It all sounds like conspiratorial nonsense, which may be part of the reason that big commercial outlets pretend that it’s all about dancing robots trying to turn a profit. But it’s true, and I can’t stress enough that context is critical:
DARPA has also helped fuel Boston Dynamics, a company perhaps best known for its YouTube videos of its quadrupedal, humanoid, and wheeled robots, which evoke visions of a fully automated future that viewers tend to find either intriguingly innovative or deeply disturbing. Founded in 1992, Boston Dynamics is the brainchild of Marc Raibert, formerly of MIT, and is presently owned by Google. The Waltham company has shifted away from government funding since being acquired by Google; nevertheless, its parent company Alphabet’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, continues to chair a “Defense Innovation Advisory Board” established last year, while Google’s engineering director, longtime Mass resident Ray Kurzweil, recently reiterated his prediction that “by the 2030s, we will connect our neocortex, the part of our brain where we do our thinking, to the cloud.”
Read “Lobotomass” by Jon Riley here.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.