Title text: Don't be nervous about the robots, be nervous about the people with the resources to build them.
This comic refers to a YouTube video posted one day earlier by robotics company Boston Dynamics. The video shows a quadruped robot with a roughly canine form approach a door, then stop and 'look' to the side where a second robot appears, which has an articulated arm attachment on top. This robot sizes up the door, then uses its arm to grasp the handle and open the door. It holds the door open for the first robot, then follows it through the doorway.
The video was extremely popular, receiving over four million views in the first day. Many social media comments joked that humanity is doomed, as the robots we are developing will soon become capable enough to rise up and overthrow us. This is a common jest or anxiety expressed when robots manage to master a task that previously had given them difficulty. It is especially appropriate here, since the ability to open doors is extremely useful when dealing with humans. Randall has previously made the point that a robot uprising would promptly fail because most robots couldn't successfully open doors (or even successfully negotiate thresholds, in some cases). This latest advance seems to specifically undercut that assurance.
After Cueball sees this video, he reiterates the same line by saying that we're definitely going to die. Megan, however, offers an alternative view: that in fact, due to human nature, it is the robots that are in mortal peril from this technological development, not humans, since humans tend to respond aggressively to potential threats.
Taking Megan's point, Cueball sarcastically suggests that humans don't tend to overreact violently to perceived threats, to which Megan replies, equally sarcastically, that she must be thinking of another species.
The title text may refer to the Mad Scientist or Evil Genius tropes in science fiction, where someone builds an army of robots with the intent of using them to take over the world. Alternatively, the title text could refer to the real life phenomena of military programs expending enormous resources to develop unmanned offensive capabilities, such as the Predator drone and SWORDS mobile weapon platform. In the latter context, it may be sensible to show concern with the methods, reasoning, motivations, and long-term stability of people directing the development of potentially lethal robots. Boston Dynamics is one of the foremost innovators in the field of military-grade automation.
- [Cueball is sitting at his desk in an office chair pointing to his laptop while looking back over his shoulder talking to Megan off-panel.]
- Cueball: Did you see this Boston Dynamics robot video?
- Cueball: We're definitely all gonna die.
- [Megan walks in to the panel towards Cueball who still looks at her, but stops pointing.]
- Megan: You know, it's funny.
- Megan: Humans see a robot open a door, and we all instantly assume we're in mortal peril.
- [Zoom in on the heads of Megan and Cueball, both now looking at the off-panel screen.]
- Megan: So doesn't it make more sense to say the robots are all gonna die?
- Cueball: Violently overreacting to a perceived threat? That doesn't sound like humans.
- Megan: Yeah, I must be thinking of some other species.
- [Title Text] Don't be nervous about the robots, be nervous about the people with the resources to build them.
Possibly coincidentally, approximately seven weeks before this video and strip, the series "Black Mirror" released an episode entitled "Metalhead". The episode set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are hunted by robots highly reminiscent of this line of Boston Dynamics robots. Clearly, the concept of these robots becoming a threat isn't unique to XKCD.
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