Deep down, most of us harbour deep-seated fears about artificially intelligent robots rising up and obliterating humanity.
But nothing brings those fears home quite like a video of a cute domestic robot laughing manically while repeatedly stabbing a screwdriver into a ripe tomato.
The video, released by cyber security firm IOActive, starts the UBTech Alpha 1S – a programmable humanoid robot that can play football, sing songs and dance, and is designed for use with the whole family.
It starts with some promotional footage from UBTech, showing the Alpha 1S robot helping a man fix the kitchen sink by reading out instructions from the web and handing him a screwdriver.
The video then cuts to a shot of “hackers” uploading a computer file calledto the robot via Bluetooth. The hackers are, of course, IOActive’s own security researchers.
The robot’s demeanour immediately changes. Its eyes start flashing red, and it starts laughing maniacally and thrusting wildly with the screwdriver, gouging slices out of the tomato in front of it.
The video is designed to highlight the relative ease with which these types of domestic robots can be hacked in order to spy on users, or even inflict physical harm.
According to Lucas Apa, principal security consultant at IOActive, the vulnerabilities his team discovered in the UBTech Alpha 1S robot could be exploited by a relatively unsophisticated hacker.
“The robot-powered future predicted by the Jetsons is still a way off but consumers are starting to welcome robots into their homes. Make no mistake that adoption will skyrocket in the next five to ten years,” he said.
“However, the worry is that people continue to think of these devices as gimmicks and toys, not potentially dangerous devices that may be used to spy on their loved ones or even hurt them.
“After all, they are not just toys. They are increasingly capable computers with arms, legs or wheels which will only get bigger, stronger, faster with each new generation.”
He added that many domestic robots have built-in microphones and cameras which, if hacked, could start leaking sensitive information – including videos of children.
“Only when consumers start demanding security from robotics will we actually get it,” he said.
The news comes after a group of over 100 robotics and artificial intelligence leaders wrote an open letter to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons this week, warning about “killer robots” .
The letter cautions that, if left unmonitored, robotics technology will be used to create autonomous weapons, ultimately leading to “the third revolution in warfare”.
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter states.
“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”