Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

The dancing robot dog: Magic trick or real artificial intelligence?

You may have seen the video below by Boston Dynamics. It shows a robot dog dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. It is fun and funny to watch, but people also expressed serious worries about robot inroads into human behavior. However, there is no explanation by Boston Dynamics and it is not at all clear whether this is a simple magic trick created to fool the onlookers or real artificial intelligence (AI) progress.

It would be novel progress in AI if the robot dog would actually listen to the music, interpret it, and turn its interpretation into matching dance moves, just like a human being would do. I doubt, however, that this is what is happening. More likely, a human programmed the dog to make the moves we see in the video and timed them to match the music. He or she then recorded the video by playing moves and music in parallel. (In all fairness: This may not have been Boston Dynamics’ intention. Perhaps they only wanted to demonstrate the robot’s agility, which, together with the supporting software, represents significant progress in its own right. But that’s a different topic.)

What worries me is that many of the comments on Youtube and Twitter suggest that viewers jumped straight to option 1, the robot being intelligent enough to interpret the music. Just because of the correlation (parallel playing of moves and music), they assumed causation (interpretation of and action based on the music) between music and moves. Our society needs to acquire a more critical and analytical stance towards what it sees on a screen or we will end up in a place where people start believing in magic.

We should be paying attention to the man behind the curtain.

(Local backup of video.)

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