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.
Now Kallos is proposing what may be the nation’s first law banning police from owning or operating robots armed with weapons.
“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.”
Kallos’ bill would not ban unarmed utility robots like the Digidog, only weaponized robots. But robotics experts and ethicists say he has tapped into concerns about the increasing militarization of police: their increasing access to sophisticated robots through private vendors and a controversial military equipment pipeline. Police in Massachusetts and Hawaii are testing the Digidog as well.
“Nonlethal robots could very well morph into lethal ones,” says Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. Lin briefed CIA employees on autonomous weapons during the Obama administration and supports a ban on armed robots. He worries their increased availability poses a serious concern.