Remember when you first saw the first Terminator movie? Great action, funny lines (“I’ll be back”), killer robots, and a hot heroine made up the plot line. First-rate entertainment, but the stuff of science fiction, right? Nothing we would ever have to worry about.
Not so fast… You may have missed it with all the holiday hubbub going on, but last week the company that knows more about you and your activities than any other acquired Boston Dynamics, a maker of advanced robots that look like animals and humans. I’ve checked out the website — they have a Cheetah model robot that’s faster than any human, another that can toss cinderblocks 20 feet as though they were ping pong balls, and humanoid ones that can jump, go up stairs, and navigate tricky terrain.
Every time Google does something new we joke about Skynet and Cylons, but Google’s never had the host to house all of the intelligence. So now we can have robots that know where I live, where I go, what I search for, and which can be outfitted with Google Glass, Maps, Plus, and read my mail! What’s not to like?
In all seriousness though, why would Google buy a robot company? One speculation that I’ve heard is to shoot down the Amazon drones as they deliver stuff to our homes. In reality though, robots aren’t new to Google — the company has been buying other robot companies for a while. While this may seem far from Google’s mission, so did glasses, phones, and self-driving cars, but they found a way to connect the dots so that they make some sense, so I’m sure they will with robots as well — or maybe not, but it won’t really matter.
Google is this decade’s IBM or Lucent. They have so much capital and so many resources that the company can afford to experiment in things that some may consider “out there”. During their heyday, Bell Labs from Lucent was always doing research in areas that no other company could afford to, and it helped them maintain a significant competitive lead for years. This is exactly what Google is doing with cars, floating data centers, and now robots. In fact, one could argue that the reason that Google has the lead they do is because they’re willing to throw more spaghetti at a wall than any other company so they’re almost assured of hitting every market shift.
So what might Google use these robots for? Well initially Google could use them to help gather more intelligence about places that people can’t really get to. Perhaps we’ll have underwater “street view”, or Google Maps can extend into deep caves or high atop mountain peaks. Google loves connecting people to information so the more information they have, the more they can connect.
Longer term though, robots could have a profound impact on the way we live our lives. They can perform many of the mundane and dangerous tasks faster than people can. Sure we run the risk of a colony of Android-based androids rising up and enslaving people, but hey, that’s progress!
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons