Boston Dynamics digidog
Courtesy Boston Dynamics

If you’ve seen the episode of the Black Mirror (the linked video is pretty grisly) that featured murderous robot dogs that roamed a post-apocalyptic countryside, this GIF might give you chills . . .

The creators of that episode modeled their killer curs after Boston Dynamics’ Spot (photo at top).

Now, given the rapid advancement (and sometimes lethal use) of robotics by police departments in some jurisdictions, a New York City Councilman is moving to ban law enforcement officers from using armed robots.

From wired.com . . .

New York City councilmember Ben Kallos says he “watched in horror” last month when city police responded to a hostage situation in the Bronx using Boston Dynamics’ Digidog, a remotely operated robotic dog equipped with surveillance cameras. Pictures of the Digidog went viral on Twitter, in part due to their uncanny resemblance with world-ending machines in the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror.

That episode of Black Mirror must have given Councilman Kallos some serious nightmares.

“I don’t think anyone was anticipating that they’d actually be used by the NYPD right now,” Kallos says. ”I have no problem with using a robot to defuse a bomb, but it has to be the right use of a tool and the right type of circumstance.”

It seems Councilman Kallos hasn’t really been paying attention. Robots have already been used in similar circumstances by other police departments for years now.

Back in 2016, the Dallas police department equipped a robot with an explosive and used it to take out a suspect who was holed up in a parking structure and had ambushed a number of cops. The hostage-taker was killed when the device was detonated.

Later that year, the LAPD used a robot to snatch a gun and disarm a suspect in a hostage standoff.

More from wired.com . . .

In the Bronx incident last month, police used the Digidog to gather intel on the house where two men were holding two others hostage, scoping out hiding places and tight corners. Police ultimately apprehended the suspects, but privacy advocates raised concerns about the technical capabilities of the robot and policies governing its use.

The ACLU is concerned about the privacy implications of police using robots and aren’t happy that the NYPD didn’t sufficiently disclose that they have the machines.

The ACLU questioned why the Digidog was not listed on the police department’s disclosure of surveillance devices under a city law passed last year. The robot was only mentioned in passing in a section on “situational awareness cameras.” The ACLU called that disclosure “highly inadequate,” criticizing the “weak data protection and training sections” regarding Digidog.

If only we could get the ACLU as worked up about infringements against Second Amendment rights by operations like the NYPD and ATF. Wait…who are we kidding?

Meanwhile, dim bulb Dem Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was all worked up about the use of robots, too…apparently because they’re racist.

That prompted the NYPD to call the Congresswoman’s attention to the fact that the NYPD has been using robots in one form or another since the 1970s.

“This is happening now,” says Melissa Hamilton, a scholar in Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Surrey in the UK and a former police officer. Hamilton says she’s heard of US police departments running drills similar to the 2016 incident in Dallas, using robots to detonate explosives—not just to neutralize suspects, but to enter buildings or end standoffs.

“I’m concerned that a democracy is turning domestic police into a militarized zone,” she says.

This increasing militarization is part of why Kallos, the New York councilmember, wants to “avoid investing in an ever escalating arms race when these dollars could be better spent” elsewhere.


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