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This Robot Policeman Is A Terrible Idea

Always watching and completely harmless...
This Robot Policeman Is A Terrible Idea© 2017 Knightscope

In the book 1984, George Orwell wrote about a dystopian society where everybody was watched over by a massive video surveillance system. More than half a century later, in the film iRobot, humanity is exploited through robot systems which are inevitably used against them. While these are fictional dystopias, with the way that technology is going, they really aren’t that far away.

A good example of this is the Knightscope K5, a device which would be amazing, if it wasn’t so downright alarming. The Knightscope is world’s first robotic security guard, able to provide autonomous surveillance over areas much larger than a standard CCTV security camera. Looking rather similar to R2D2 from Star Wars, this bin-sized unit trundles around areas with the aim to prevent crime.

Image: © 2014 Knightscope

This it seeks to achieve through a constant surveillance presence. Armed with a wide array of cameras and sensors, the K5 is able map and then monitor a pre-programmed area. Its cameras are omni-directional, able to see in the dark, and can even read text through optical character recognition. Furthermore, it also has microphones that enable the robot to ‘hear’ into the ultrasonic. Should it detect a problem or a crime, the robot sounds a loud alarm which should bring human officers to the scene.

It is reported that Microsoft has already begun using these robots on its campus in the US, however the real concern comes when these devices spread beyond private facilities. Knightscope in its marketing material also believes that their robots would be perfect for use in patrolling communities, and this is where the device starts to get a little terrifying...

Currently there are a large number of activities which while probably illegal according to a bylaw or ordinance, are regularly undertaken by people in their communities, at no harm to others. The presence of an omniscient police robot patrolling the streets would have an immediate chilling effect on these sort of activities for no discernable gain. Furthermore, the idea that a robot, with zero ability for nuance, is able to raise the alarm on people at will, would be deeply unsettling for many.

Here’s hoping that nobody ever decides to arm these things…

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