Monday, July 11, 2016

Police Robots

Of all the movies I've seen over my life, and I'm an avoid movie geek, none has ever had a quote gotten stuck in my head the way "A Fistful of Dollars" has.  Even some 52 years after it's release, Clint Eastwood's "man with no name" (who actually has a name in this movie, "Joe") upon realizing he is in a town with two murderous factions bent on killing each other dryly quips, "There is MONEY to be made in a town like this".  Even when I was just a young kid, this particular line resonated with me for some reason.  I know there was a greater truth being shared beyond the plot of the movie.

The quote kept popping back up in my mind as I read all of the news and social media angst over the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the Dallas Police officers.  Just as Clint's character did, I saw Rojos (one of the families in the movies) on one side and the Baxters (the other family in the movie on the other.  Substitute "black" and "white" for "Rojo" and "Baxter" and we begin to see there is money to be made in a town like this.  But how?

At first, I dimly thought it was going to be something along the lines of federalizing all of the police to get police to stop shooting so many black people.  Problem is, that doesn't really generate much money and it makes the public even more suspicious. Then I thought maybe it would be the cottage industry that would pop-up to teach police departments how to stop shooting black people (my comments are decidedly one-way on purpose as that is how the media portrays the problem).

But none of that seems to generate the kind of money I was thinking of, especially as someone who got to see how much private military companies get paid in the middle of a war.    There had to be something I was missing.  Then I remembered another movie…..

For those of you too young to remember, that is the "Enforcement Droid-209" from the original "Robocop" movie.  The droid famously demanded in the movie "Please put your weapon down.  You have 20 seconds to comply"  Of course, when the demonstrator drops his weapon the ED-209 proceeds to continue its countdown and finally kills the character in a hail of bullets.

Of course, this was a late 80s sci-fi movie with great special effects and cheesy acting (or did I have that reversed?).  Sitting is a theater in Belleville, Illinois it seemed entertaining but not something that would happen in my lifetime.  Right?

Then I read a little more about the shootings in Dallas.  Apparently the Dallas PD used a robot to kill the shooter (article).  Ruh-roh George, we just entered the Twilight Zone!

Killer robot cops seemed far-fetched and cheesy in 1987 (the year of the original Robocop movie) but 29 years later, robots offer solutions to so many problems.  For starters, nobody can accuse a robot of being a racist.  It does what it is programmed to do without regard to race, greed, color, gender or sexual orientation.  It doesn't cost a fortune to train it, a single software update can be pushed out to the robots in one key-stroke (and without overtime or negotiations with the FOP.  It will patrol the most dangerous, God-foresaken neighborhoods without concern for its safety or demands for higher pay.  Nor will robots get caught having sex with teen prostitutes.  

But just as I've cautioned in regards to robot soldiers, robot cops come with some inherent dangers.  Malfunctions will result in the death of civilians.  Robots will execute their programs without regard to situations such as mental health problems, grief or substance abuse.  Resist arrest and a robot will throw you to the ground and strap cuffs on you regardless of your mental state or the fact that your a trying to find your lost child.  Robots also create anonymity for city officials: I can almost guarantee that the more affluent neighborhood (read, "white) will still be patrolled by carbon-based (read, "human") cops while less affluent (read, non-white) neighborhoods will be patrolled by robots.

While the media and activists will pretend to be driving this narrative, it really comes down to money.  Just as McDonald's is turning to robots to cut cost and avoid costly personnel issues, so will police department and city hall turn to robots to avoid the problems making headlines today.  Shooting a robot cop will not generate the angst, headlines and social media chaos that is happening today.  Likewise, the killing of a minority by a robot will not have the same racial implications that it does today.

Robots won't need patrol cars, armored vests, or batons.  They can move around on their own, be built out of Kevlar, and smack the crap out of any perpetrators with their "arms".  Bureaucrats are already salivating over the huge cost-savings of switching to silicon-based police forces.

The military tends to dictate technology for law enforcement.  Both the military and law enforcement are using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).  The military is already testing robots that stand upright and move like humans.  A real life ED-209 is just around the corner.  


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