A New York Lawmaker Wants to Ban Police Use of Armed Robots


New York City councilmember Ben Kallos says he “watched in horror” final month when metropolis police responded to a hostage scenario within the Bronx utilizing Boston Dynamics’ Digidog, a remotely operated robotic canine outfitted with surveillance cameras. Pictures of the Digidog went viral on Twitter, partly due to their uncanny resemblance with world-ending machines within the Netflix sci-fi sequence Black Mirror.

Now Kallos is proposing what could be the nation’s first legislation banning police from proudly owning or working robots armed with weapons.

“I don’t think anyone was anticipating that they’d actually be used by the NYPD right now,” Kallos says. ”I’ve no downside with utilizing a robotic to defuse a bomb, but it surely has to be the proper use of a instrument and the proper kind of circumstance.”

Kallos’ invoice wouldn’t ban unarmed utility robots just like the Digidog, solely weaponized robots. But robotics consultants and ethicists say he has tapped into considerations in regards to the rising militarization of police: their rising entry to refined robots by means of non-public distributors and a controversial navy tools pipeline. Police in Massachusetts and Hawaii are testing the Digidog as nicely.

“Nonlethal robots could very well morph into lethal ones,” says Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. Lin briefed CIA staff on autonomous weapons in the course of the Obama administration and helps a ban on armed robots. He worries their elevated availability poses a severe concern.

“Robots can save police lives, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “But we also need to be careful it doesn’t make a police force more violent.”

In the Bronx incident final month, police used the Digidog to collect intel on the home the place two males have been holding two others hostage, scoping out hiding locations and tight corners. Police in the end apprehended the suspects, however privateness advocates raised considerations in regards to the technical capabilities of the robotic and insurance policies governing its use.

The ACLU questioned why the Digidog was not listed on the police division’s disclosure of surveillance gadgets below a metropolis legislation handed final 12 months. The robotic was solely talked about in passing in a bit on “situational awareness cameras.” The ACLU known as that disclosure “highly inadequate,” criticizing the “weak data protection and training sections” concerning Digidog.

In a press release, the NYPD mentioned it “has been using robots since the 1970s to save lives in hostage situations and hazmat incidents. This model of robot is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models in use by our Emergency Service Unit and Bomb Squad.” 

In a press release, Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter mentioned the corporate’s terms of service prohibit attaching weapons to its robots. “All of our buyers, without exception, must agree that Spot will not be used as a weapon or configured to hold a weapon,” Playter mentioned. “As an trade, we predict robots will obtain long-term industrial viability provided that folks see robots as useful, useful instruments with out worrying in the event that they’re going to trigger hurt.” 

Local response to the use of the Digidog was blended, says councilmember Kevin Riley, who represents the Bronx neighborhood the place the incident ocurred. Some residents opposed police use of the robotic and others needed extra human police presence. A third group thought the robots would possibly assist forestall police misconduct by creating distance between officers and suspects.

Riley says he’s persevering with to converse with residents, who need to really feel protected within the neighborhood. “It’s our job as elected officials to educate residents and make sure they have a seat at the table” in discussions, he advised WIRED.

The range of considerations mirror these in Dallas in 2016. During a standoff with a sniper, native legislation enforcement used a robot to remotely ship and detonate an explosive system, killing him. The sniper had shot and killed 5 cops.

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