Ask Dr. Dumb: Robot Shorts!

Readers, it is an exciting time to be alive. The global climate is in terrific shape, the internet has made us all well-informed and thoughtful, and civility is at an all-time high. Not only that, but things have never been better for purveyors of sarcasm and irony.

Plus: Robot shorts!

Yes, that is how we write “robot shorts!” every time we use the phrase, including in the very headline of this piece, because, well… Robot shorts! The subject is undeniably exciting, and not just if you’re a robot. Robot shorts! hold promise for all of us.

To get to the bottom of this story, we turned to our go-to expert on technology and exclamation, Dr. Dumb.

Dumb Runner: Hello, doctor. Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of this story, help our readers understand what, exactly, we mean when we say “Robot shorts!”
Dr. Dumb: Certainly. In this context, robot shorts! refers to wearable technology that helps humans move more efficiently.

So, not shorts for robots.
Correct. I will admit that when I first saw this story I imagined something like this:


Those are some short shorts.
That’s how R2 rolls.

So what are we talking about, then?
We’re talking about an exosuit, defined in this NPR story as “a wearable machine that … can improve a mere mortal's strength and stamina.” The suit in question, built by a team at Harvard University, is actually a pair of shorts “with some wires and small machines around the waist and cables down the legs” that lets the user move with less energy. And it senses when the wearer changes from a walking gait to running, and adjusts its mode automatically. Which is a big deal. This video explains how it works:

Sorry! Wrong video. Here’s the correct one:


Are these scientists toying with powers they cannot possibly comprehend? And will their technology ultimately become sentient, turning against not just its creators but all of humanity in an orgy of violence and subjugation?


Until that happens, what uses are there for such an exosuit, aka robot shorts!?
Its developers say this technology can help everyone from hikers who want to extend their range to people with Parkinson's disease. Also there may be military applications.

Which is where the sentience, violence, and subjugation come in.
“We welcome our robot shorts! overlords,” yes.

Might robot shorts! be useful to recreational runners?
Perhaps, in the same way that e-bikes are useful for cyclists—they would let the user go farther while using less energy. Which is exciting, because it gets us one step closer to a world where robots won’t just be doing our jobs but will also exercise for us, freeing humans to watch more videos and consume more snack foods.

In related news, have Japanese researchers developed a robotic tail for humans?
Yes, they have.

Does it look as freaky as you’d imagine?
Yes, it does.

Doctor, I’m afraid that’s all the time we have.
If you were wearing robot shorts!, I bet you could’ve written more and in less time. Until the shorts took over and turned you into a remorseless killing machine, one of millions of conscripted foot soldiers in a global AI takeover that would end life as we know it. Which, inevitably, they would have.


Thank you to Nolan W. for inspiring today’s post!