Discover more from Are You Not Entertained?
Dead or Alive, You’re Coming with Me
You have 20 seconds to comply.
Breaking news isn't my thing, but when there's a story about not just police robots, but *lethal* police robots, my hands are cuffed.
Thanks for reading Are You Not Entertained?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, in an 8-3 vote, approved letting their police use robots with lethal force. (If that reads awkwardly, it's because I refuse to say "killer robots.")
It's a safe bet that you've heard about this already, and it's a slightly less safe bet that you've heard one or one hundred variations on RoboCop jokes and comparisons that write themselves. SFGATE surprised me with an entire story that didn’t mention the sci-fi franchise once.
The article is fascinating:
A similar policy proposal was defeated in Oakland, where police sought to outfit certain robots with live shotgun rounds. In a statement to SFGATE, the San Francisco Police Department clarified that it would not seek to arm any of its robots with firearms but rather with explosives as an "intermediate force option" that could prove to be lethal.
Only lethal explosives? Phew!
According to SFGATE, the police used confronting a suicide bomber with a robot with a bomb as a use case for the armed robots. I really hope something was lost in a game of telephone there.
So, let's talk about RoboCop for a sec.
One thing left on the cutting floor when I put together the Patrick Henry Project was that the same team wrote and directed Starship Troopers and RoboCop, with many of the same people working on the sets and special effects. Robocop was very successful, and Jon Davison, the producer, wanted to try another film with the same crew. It took nearly a decade, but it worked.
If you haven't watched the first RoboCop in a while (or ever), it's worth a look. While it's very much an 80s film, its messages about corporate power and privatization are just as relevant today as they were then. It's also hilarious.
In the movie, the Detroit police are all but privatized after they fail due to lack of funding, and Robocop and ED-209 are attempts to cut costs even further.
That doesn't seem to be what's happening here. This Wired article says that the SFPD uses the same Remotec Mark 5-A that the Dallas police used to kill a suspect in 2016. Remotec is part of a defense mega-contractor Northrop Grumman. So, it’s easier to draw a line between the SFPD wanting to use robots than it is to budget cuts or plans to replace officers with automatons.
It's hard to not be skeptical and at least a little afraid. Groundbreaking technology—especially AI—in law enforcement usually causes more problems than it addresses, including privacy issues and bias.
But as Wired points out, that’s not stopping police around the country:
Most existing police robots move slowly on caterpillar tracks, but police forces in New York and Germany are beginning to use legged robots like the nimble quadruped Spot Mini.
It’s manufacturer, Boston Dynamics, said that robots shouldn’t be weaponized.
Will anyone listen?
Skip the sequels and the remake.