Isaac Asimov’s Detective Spooner in I, Robot would probably have a lot to say about the first police robot that was used to deliberately kill a human. This week Dallas police rigged a bot with explosives, remote controlled it to deliver the bomb to a gunman in a standoff, and then detonated the bomb. With advances in military technology, and drone technology in particular, many might see this event as an inevitable militarization of those whose job it is to protect and serve. However it has raised a fierce debate about whether it’s appropriate for regular cops to have access to that kind of firepower, especially at a time when the country is already on edge about police brutality. The question is, what sort of precedent does this set for the future?
It’s important to separate the police and the military in this kind of thinking, as both have very different purposes. And while cops have a lot of lethal weapons at their disposal, from handguns to semi-automatics, explosives aren’t usually one of them. In a standoff, with many lives at stake and all avenues of negotiation apparently exhausted, should this type of killer robot become the norm? The issue isn’t whether Dallas police should have delivered their lethal force remotely, but whether they should have been using lethal force at all.
The robot in Dallas is not the only robot being used by a police force – hundreds of police departments all over the country have access to something similar (but you should think more WALL-E rather than R2D2). Pretty soon they might have names, customizable accessories and a Pokémon-like catch phrase: gotta catch all the baddies! And when you consider the type of firepower that regular citizens now have access to, it’s understandable that the police don’t wish to be outgunned and are leveling up their arsenal in order to deal with anything that might come their way. Which is fine, just so long as they remember that their first priority isn’t waging war, but saving lives.
Feel the police would catch more bad guys as cyborgs? Movie for your sci-fi mood: Robocop