You Should Be More Scared of Smartphones Than Robots

Gill Pratt, one of the top roboticists in the world, says people should not fear robots because they have legs. He says you should be more worried about all the data you carry around on your cellphone, and who has access to it.


Elon Musk. Stephen Hawking. Bill Gates. They’ve all said we should be afraid of artificial intelligence (AI).

Musk has donated millions to prevent the robot uprising. And many of these experts also signed a petition to ban robotic weapons.

This certainly won’t end the debate as the anti-AI crowd won’t be going away anytime soon. But a robotics expert has a new take on the Great Debate. DARPA program manager Gill Pratt, who ran the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge that hosted the most advanced robots in the world - says we should be more afraid of smartphones than robots.

In an interview with Defense One, Pratt rebuffed the notion killer robots are around the corner:

“People have this notion that robots are dangerous because they have legs, so perhaps they can come get us. The danger is not in the legs. It’s in the camera and the microphone. We’re the robot. We carry cell phones around all over the place to the worst places they can be and we trust whoever it is to audit the software to make sure it has no malware in it. There’s a lot of trust there. I’m very worried about those systems. I don’t worry about the robot on the loose doing physical damage. The valuable stuff is the data. That issue is huge and transcends whether it’s a robot, a cellphone, or a laptop. If you solve it for the laptop and phone, you’ll solve it for the robot as well.”

Pratt continues, “There are also whole lot of reasons why a ban is impractical right now,” he explained. “To call for one now based on an emotional fear of a far future thing, this is the wrong time to do that.”

Of course, Pratt isn’t the only one who has tried to debunk these fears. There have been many others who think the “dangers” of AI have been overblown. But hearing someone say smartphones is more dangerous than robots seems to put a new spin on things.

And how could you disagree with Pratt? Yes, the DARPA Robotics Challenge showed how far robots have come, but many of them couldn’t walk. And, yes, Google’s Atlas humanoid robot was recently shown running through the woods - and it was terrifying - but it was tethered. It wouldn’t be hard to take it out of commission.

Afterall, look how easy it was to destroy hitchBOT.

“I’m extremely optimistic about the ability of robots to help us. I would like a machine to help me drive my car; I would like a machine to help me carry my backpack on a hike. There are lots of ways for these machines to make life better. My outlook is positive.”

Pratt is one of the top minds in robotics. I’ll side with him on this one. What about you?




About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.




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