The scene above could soon be history if robot police dogs catch on.
But now, a police force in the United States has tested the capabilities of a robot dog for the first time—and civil liberties experts are raising the alarm.
According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Police leased a Spot robot dog from Boston Dynamics for 90 days ending on November 5, 2019.Kristin Houser, “It’s Official: Police Are Testing Out Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog” at Futurism
Here are some “Spots” at work:
As Boston’s NPR news station explains:
The state’s bomb squad had Spot on loan from the Waltham-based Boston Dynamics for three months starting in August until November, according to records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and reviewed by WBUR.
The documents do not reveal a lot of details on the robot dog’s exact use, but a state police spokesman said Spot, like the department’s other robots, was used as a “mobile remote observation device” to provide troopers with images of suspicious devices or potentially hazardous locations, like where an armed suspect might be hiding.
“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” state police spokesman David Procopio wrote.Ally Jarmanning, “Mass. State Police Tested Out Boston Dynamics’ Spot The Robot Dog. Civil Liberties Advocates Want To Know More” at WBUR News
While the state police spokesman doesn’t quite spell it out, one advantage of robots is that their destruction, should it occur, is mainly financial and professional grief—a far cry from the public mourning for heroic rescue dogs killed in action.
The ACLU’s concerns stem from the fact that there are few or no current legal restrictions on how the robots are to be used.
Boston Dynamics says that its lease agreements require that the robots not be used to “physically harm or intimidate people.” But what that requirement amounts to remains unclear, especially if there is no local enforcement of terms and the technology is soon stolen by foreign actors with quite different motives.
Further reading: Not all uses of robotic animals attract social concern. Some long-term care homes are experimenting with robotic pets for the benefit of residents who appreciate the fun but live in a facility that is not best suited to caring for a live animal.