Millions of jobs are at risk of being outsourced to automated artificial intelligence or robotic applications in the next decade. These jobs range from baristas and supermarket clerks to lawyers and hedge fund managers. Now, a new patent application by automaker Ford suggests law enforcement agents, too, could soon be replaced by artificially intelligent autonomous police cars equipped with state of the art cameras, wireless communication sensors, and surveillance technology.
The automated cop car would be designed to seek out especially crafty hiding places, detect driving infractions, wirelessly interface with potentially (automated) lawbreaking vehicles, and even remotely issue citations. According to Techcrunch, Ford’s patent filing suggests that the new machine learning algorithm would not only be capable of determining whether the infraction constitutes a ticket or a warning but would also be able to manually take control of a vehicle if necessary, although it is not entirely clear what the patent envisions in the way of manual takeovers. The AI black-and-white would also have instantaneous access to any databases necessary to adjudicate suspects and offenders.
“While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws,” the patent filing states, “a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time. When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic.”
Vaughn Highfield of Alphr imagined how this might play out on the road:
“In practice, Ford’s car would establish a direct wireless connection with a speeding car and then send a message to its dashboard indicating that it’s going too fast and has been spotted. The vehicle would then reply to Ford’s police car informing it of if it was in autonomous mode or being driven by a human.”
A ticket may then be issued to the license of the human driver.
Some tech and science blogs took a glass half full approach to the news, pointing out that automating routine police tasks, such as speeding tickets, may free up human police officers to focus more of their attention on law enforcement tasks that are not so easily interpreted by an algorithm. The overriding sentiment, however, seems to be one of caution, as technologists imagine a world where humans are policed by artificially intelligent automated law enforcers.
Unsurprisingly, Ford Global Technologies CEO Jim Hackett is optimistic about what he describes as a game-changing technology that will transform cities and communities for the better. During a speech at a Las Vegas conference last month, he pontificated about the utopian future humans can expect in the ‘city of tomorrow’:
“The car and the system will be talking to each other. And changing one piece of the system necessarily changes the whole.
“A car obviously is going to learn to drive itself, but the city transportations grid will mutate around what the cars need.
“What we want is the depiction of the city of tomorrow that demonstrates the benefits of introducing these smart vehicles in a smart world for civic life.
“It’s not about the city getting smarter, but about humans having a better day.”
Stephen Edelstein, a writer for The Drive, however, voiced more concern regarding the ethics of automated law enforcement. “The potential pitfalls of machines conducting police work have us feeling especially skeptical about this one.”
While Ford’s patent doesn’t ensure the technology will come to pass, it seems exceedingly likely that the country’s law enforcement agencies and military will soon be embracing the most cutting-edge technologies, which begs the question:
Do AI police cars make you more or less concerned about the future?