I think there are two reasons we are so impressed by the Atlas robot. One is we’ve seen too many science fiction movies. The other one is it resembles a human. When we look at it walking and doing stuff, the possibility dawns that it might stop following its orders and start attacking the people around it. We don’t feel that way when we see a driverless car, even if we’ve read Stephen King’s “Christine”.
If we forget the sci-fi stuff and contemplate in a cool way based on the information we have from these videos, we find it’s not much more than a vehicle with driver assistance technologies. Its operator tells it where to go and what to do. Its ability to walk and recognize objects is amazing, but in essence it’s the same as a car that can move on its own on the highway and recognize obstacles. There is zero evidence in these videos that Atlas is remotely near true autonomy—that it might possibly be given a simple mission and go execute it on its own.
However I’m always stunned by the walking.