Tech News Newsletter Image 02 23 2021

Spot's Rampage/MSCHF Spot's Rampage/MSCHF Phil Roeder/Flickr (CC-BY) aclu.org (Fair Use) Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Tech newsletter: Horrifying robot dog’s paintball rampage, Biden + facial recognition

Here is a look at tech and politics news from the last week.

Feb 23, 2021, 1:56 pm*

Tech

 

Andrew Wyrich

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Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Internet Insider, where we dissect tech and politics news unfolding online. Today:

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  • Pranksters show how horrifying Boston Dynamics’ police robot dog is by strapping a paintball gun to it
  • Civil rights groups want Biden to halt government use of facial recognition
  • No, Ted Cruz didn’t tweet he’d ‘believe in climate change when Texas freezes over’

A Spot robot from Boston Dynamics
Spot's Rampage/MSCHF

BREAK THE INTERNET

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Pranksters show how horrifying Boston Dynamics’ police robot dog is by strapping a paintball gun to it


The internet will get a chance to remotely control one of Boston Dynamics’ $75,000 “Spot” robots this week thanks to a mysterious startup company. The robot will even equipped with a paintball gun for added mayhem.

The campaign, dubbed "Spot's Rampage," is the brainchild of MSCHF, a New York-based company know for its outrageous publicity stunts and product drops. 

On Wednesday, MSCHF will unleash Spot inside a small art gallery at its headquarters in Brooklyn. Users who visit the campaign's website will get a chance to commandeer Spot for two minutes before another user somewhere in the world takes over.

The goal of Spot's Rampage appears to be nothing more than a little chaos—and perhaps to raise questions about the potential misuse of robots in the future. Numerous messages with politically dark undertones litter the campaign's website.

"Everyone in this world takes one look at cute little Spot and knows: this thing will definitely be used by police and the military to murder people," MSCHF says.

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Police departments have used robots like Spot to conduct raids, raising ethical questions that MSCHF hopes to highlight with its stunts.

Boston Dynamics isn't a fan

MSCHF says it let Boston Dynamics know its intentions for Spot after the robot was successfully delivered to its headquarters. Boston Dynamics, according to MSCHF, offered two additional Spot robots for free if they agreed to call off the campaign.

Boston Dynamics issued a public statement on Friday condemning what it described as a planned "spectacle to draw attention to a provocative use" of its robot.

Here's why it matters

The Daily Dot was granted early access to Spot's Rampage and was able to remotely control the robotic quadruped from a mobile phone. Firing its paintball gun in the general direction of numerous art pieces, the highly capable robot was surprisingly responsive.

If you're wondering whether any prize is involved with the campaign, MSCHF assures users that in the end, nobody is a winner. In fact, MSCHF stresses that Spot's Rampage instead produces one loser: "The human race, when remote-operated dogs of war become commonplace."

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- Mikael Thalen, contributing writer


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Joe Biden next to a letter from advocacy groups asking him to halt government use of facial recognition technology.
Phil Roeder/Flickr (CC-BY) aclu.org

PRIVACY

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Civil rights groups want Biden to halt government use of facial recognition

President Joe Biden is facing pressure from a coalition of groups to use executive action to halt the use of facial recognition technology by the government.

More than 35 groups signed onto an open letter that urges the president to place a moratorium on government use of the technology and support a bill in Congress that would do the same.

Facial recognition technology's use by government, and in particular police, has long been criticized because the technology has been shown to have a racial bias.

The technology received even more scrutiny last summer amid protests against police brutality and racism across the country. Several cities—most recently Minneapolis—have banned the use of the technology by their governments.

The letter specifically calls on Biden to take executive action to stop federal government use of facial recognition and biometric technology "so long as bias pervades these systems" and Congress hasn't passed a law that outlines where the technology can be used in certain circumstances.

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It also urges Biden to support the "Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act," a bill introduced last year.

- Andrew Wyrich, deputy tech editor


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
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NOPE

No, Ted Cruz didn’t tweet he’d ‘believe in climate change when Texas freezes over’

An alleged tweet which appears to show Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stating that he would only believe in climate change once Texas “freezes over” is circulating online as his state deals with a historic snow storm that he fled from.

But the tweet isn't real and Cruz never made such a statement.

The fake tweet purports to be from 2016 and shows Cruz saying: "I'll believe in climate change when Texas freezes over." It's been shared hundreds of thousands of times across social media. Don't fall for it. 

- Mikael Thalen, contributing writer

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*First Published: Feb 23, 2021, 1:55 pm