Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

There’s Not Much Truth Found in HBO’s Lazy Robot Panic Documentary

If Skynet looms on the horizon, you won’t find the evidence here.

The Truth About Killer Robots. HBO. Monday, November 26, 10 p.m.'The Truth About Killer Robots''The Truth About Killer Robots,' HBO

What could be better on a long Thanksgiving weekend than curling up on the couch for a documentary about murderous robots? Well, practically anything, including jabbing red-hot pincers in your eyes, if the documentary in question is HBO's The Truth About Killer Robots.

Turns out this show is a dead-solid lock for the Emmy for Best Camouflage Job in a Title. Director Maxim Pozdorovkin started out to make a film about an actual killing of an assembly-line worker at a VW factory in Germany, discovered nobody would tell him anything, and tacked on 80 minutes of Luddite squawking to fill in the enormous gaps.

So there's a long section on the sinister implications of a self-driving Tesla in Florida that ran into a truck, killing its human passenger. (No matter that human drivers acting without robot assistance killed more than 40,000 people in the United States last year.)

There's also a segment on the inhumanity of the Dallas police department using a reverse-engineered bomb-disposal robot to blow up a barricaded sniper. (No matter that the sniper had already killed five cops.)

And then the documentary discusses the creepiness of a hotel desk-clerk robot taking down your information. (Is that really more uncomfortable than giving your home address, phone number and credit card to a human stranger?)

Eventually Killer Robots dissolves into pure silliness. My favorite moment was when a Chinese assembly-line worker who complains that integrating robots into the line has dehumanized him: "I feel like I'm turning into a robot!" As if assembly lines were were warm, creative environments before the damn cyborgs ruined them.

Not that Killer Robots doesn't blunder into an intriguing moment or two along the way to complete incoherence—particularly concerning the 2015 attack that gives the show its name.

A VW assembly robot grabbed a human co-worker and crushed him against a wall. Three years later, neither VW nor the German prosecutor's office that investigated the case has released a single detail about it, not even the name of the victim. About all that remains on the Internet about the incident is an occasional bad Twitter joke.

If I shared Killer Robots' paranoia about 'bot intentions, I'd be highly suspicious about a segment in which a researcher is shown letting robots run into him, strike him, and generally bully him to get data for fine-tuning their movements to make them safer. What if the robots thought they were being trained?

Footnote: Sadly lacking from Killer Robots is any discussion of their varied sexual practices, from clandestine rendezvous to orgiastic exhibitionism to rapine plunder. That last one is actual from a computer enhanced with artificial intelligence and a mechanical penis, but let's not split cyber-hairs.

Photo Credit: 'The Truth About Killer Robots,' HBO

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Agammamon||

    using a reverse-engineered bomb-disposal robot to blow up a barricaded sniper

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    They didn't 'reverse-engineer' a bomb disposal robot. They already had a bomb disposal robot. They *jury-rigged* a fitting to allow the robot to deliver a bomb. There was no reverse engineering going on here.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Interesting trivia which might even be true: "jury rig" is short for "injury rig" which is what sailors did to temporarily repair storm damage to sailing ships.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I always knew it as Jerry Rig, like Germans in WW1. I just assumed Jury rigged was that not being PC anymore and so they just kind of shifted the word slightly.

  • Paloma||

    I'm betting it's jerry rigged.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    It's jury rigged but I was wrong about the "injury" aspect:

    The adjectival use of "jury", in the sense of makeshift or temporary, has been said to date from at least 1616
  • Bronze Khopesh||

    01010111 01100101 00100000 01101101 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110100 00100000 01101100 01100101 01110100 00100000 01110010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 01110011 00100000 01110100 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01101111 01110110 01100101 01110010 00101110 00100000 01010111 01100101 00100000 01101000 01110101 01101101 01100001 01101110 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100001 01110011 00100000 01001001 00100000 01100001 01101101 00101100 00100000 01101101 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01110010 01100101 01110011 01101001 01110011 01110100 00100001 00101110

  • Jerryskids||

    Yeah, good try, spambot - I ain't clicking that link.

  • Eddy||

    You must be simple-minded to see the world in such binary terms.

  • Eddy||

    "What could be better on a long Thanksgiving weekend than curling up on the couch for a documentary about murderous robots? Well, practically anything, including jabbing red-hot pincers in your eyes, if the documentary in question is HBO's The Truth About Killer Robots."

    I see that Garvin is back on the Satellite of Love.

  • Eddy||

    "Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald."

    Wow, his pre-Satellite of Love career is impressive.

  • LiborCon||

    "So there's a long section on the sinister implications of a self-driving Tesla in Florida that ran into a truck, killing its human passenger."

    What about all the cars killed by human drivers? Won't someone think of the machines?

  • Cy||

    "There's also a segment on the inhumanity of the Dallas police department using a reverse-engineered bomb-disposal robot to blow up a barricaded sniper. (No matter that the sniper had already killed five cops.)"

    I thought this was pretty bullshit too. The guy was trapped and out of ammo. That and I don't want an automated killing in any theater of war, including our own streets.

  • Richard Stallman||

    "Autonomous" cars will threaten human rights and democracy because
    they won't really be autonomous: remote control facilities have
    already been developed. See
    https://phys.org/news/2018-08- silicon-valley-car-tech-firm.html.

    A car that has remote control facilities, and is not under the firm
    control of a driver inside it, could be remotely commanded to carry
    away dissidents and whistleblowers to the secret police -- or to hit
    them intentionally as they cross the street.

  • Juice||

    Better get your robot insurance, because they're made of metal and robots are strong.

  • qoheleth||

    The thing that's lost on the type of folks who fear "robotic intentions" is that there isn't now, nor will there be in the foreseeable future, such a thing. Robots don't have intentions. They have no motivations. They don't think. They don't reason. They have programming. That programming (again for the foreseeable future) is extremely specific. They are programmed to do a small group of functions and it is actually physically impossible for them to "decide" to do something else. If their actions (such as pinning the man to the wall) are different from what we expect, it's because we haven't followed the code down that particular line yet. (The programming can be complex, so it's not unheard of that the designers missed some particular interaction.)
    The bottom line is that even devices that purport to have Artificial Intelligence are only doing a small group of very specific things.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online