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Things We Saw Today: The Dancing Robots Are All Fun and Games Until They Murder Us

Listen, folks, I love robots as much as the next science fiction nerd. But it’s also because I’ve spent a life steeped in science fiction that the latest “fun” video out of robotics company Boston Dynamics scares the hell out of me.

I’ve been afraid of the Boston Dynamics robots for years. Back when I wrote about their ability to run around in 2015, however, I never could have imagined what it would be like to watch that lumbering gait become smooth, precise, on-rhythm, and all the more terrifying.

As the robots dance to Berry Gordy Jr./The Contours’ 1962 hit “Do You Love Me”—even more famous, of course, for its place in Dirty Dancing (see what they did there to distract us from our imminent destruction)—you are forced to confront the fragility of man. Those lightly tapping mechanical feet will crush our vertebrae without a second thought. The adorable “dog”-shaped yellow robot, “Spot,” that seems cute to us because it’s on four legs that can now gracefully do ballet? That singing, snapping beak is going to be the last thing you ever see. (If you’re tempted, you can buy a Spot of your own for $74,500.)

While my fear is unbounded and I can only await the singularity and the inevitable judgment our robots overlords will pass upon the failed human experiment, I have to marvel at this video. In 2015, the not-a-super-villain-company-even-if-it-sounds-like-one Boston Dynamics creations could run, but they were tethered to a power supply and rather ungainly.

The advancements made in a mere half-decade are astonishing, and again, the sci-fi, tech-loving nerd in me is thrilled. These robots are already better at dancing than I will ever be. Their dexterity and range of movement is extraordinary. I do not, however, want to meet Spot or Atlas or our new killer giraffe box-moving robot friend “Handle” in a dark starship corridor at night. Somewhere Isaac Asimov is screaming.

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs,” opined one Victor Frankenstein. I’ll leave it at that.

It’s officially 2021! Welcome to the future, everyone.

(image: YouTube/screengrab)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.