Science & Tech

Robots in San Francisco could soon be allowed to kill you

Debate on Killer Robots Rages as Robotics Companies Partner with Police and …

Concerned that police officers across America are a little trigger-happy?

Well, brace yourselves, because it could be about to get a lot worse.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote today on a policy that could allow police-controlled robots to use deadly force.

The agenda minutes for the meeting sound pretty banal on their face - supervisors will vote on "a policy governing the funding, acquisition, and use of certain law enforcement equipment."

But the devil is in the detail and NPR reports that the policy affects whether the San Francisco Police Department's 12 law enforcement remote-controlled robots will be allowed to start killing people, at least in theory.

A draft policy sent to the board says: "Robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person.

But alternative draft has been submitted by police with that line crossed out and replaced with: “Robots will only be used as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to the SFPD."

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The San Francisco Police Department told NPR that its robots do not have lethal force capabilities - and there are no plans to outfit robots with “any type of firearm”.

Seems like a strange move to submit a draft allowing for such a thing, if there are no plans for it.

But according to NPR, the police department says: "No policy can anticipate every conceivable situation or exceptional circumstance which officers may face. The SFPD must be prepared, and have the ability, to respond proportionally."

So it seems like they may just be covering their bases.

Nonetheless, experts have been lining up to criticize the potential expansion of powers.

One said “we are living in a dystopian future” in which the police may “use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge”.

And while it seems that San Francisco has no immediate plans to turn its robots into killers, a precedent has been set elsewhere.

In 2016 Dallas police used an explosive-laden robot to kill a man who’d killed five police officers.

Earlier this year, robot company Boston Dynamics (among many others) pledged its support against weaponising its products with an open letter.

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