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The Robots are Here

A city in Hawaii just spent a large amount of their PPP money on buying one of these robot crime-fighting dogs for their police department, for which they were heavily critiqued. What are your thoughts regarding the implementation of these dogs? Are you pro/anti?

Does it remind you of this Black Mirror episode?

They were supposed to add one of the dogs to NYC police department, but it was cancelled due to public outcry this April. It would have cost $94,000 and would have helped with surveying hazardous areas. The dogs are able to climb stairs. The mayor called the dog “creepy” and “unnecessary.”

Should we be adding them to police departments? Why or why not?

9 thoughts on “The Robots are Here

  1. Stephanie Thomson

    I don’t know how I feel about robot police dogs more generally, but I think the timing of this announcement was just so badly thought through, it makes me wonder if the NYPD have a PR department. I think our natural inclination is to be suspicious of any new technologies like this – when my local Stop and Shop introduced this weird robot that patrols the aisles, I didn’t like it at first, and now I’m just used to seeing it. So given the context of the public outcry against police brutality and the fact many people were already deeply suspicious of the police force, I don’t know what possessed them to decide this was a great moment to roll out some canine robocop. I think in other circumstances, people might have been more receptive and open to the idea – I’m sure it must have some benefits – but the NYPD was wired to the moon to think this was going to be well-received in last summer’s political climate.

  2. Camila Santander

    This is so interesting. Thank you for sharing, Catherine! I would like to know more about this robot dog and how it works, to know if it is a good idea or not to add them. However, I don’t really find it creepy or weird. I am not sure why. I think it’s kind of funny looking.

  3. Tess Chapin (she/her/hers)

    I think these dogs are so weird-looking and creepy. They remind me of large crustaceans. Also, can we just point out that we only call them “dogs” because that’s what it is claimed they are? Couldn’t they be called basically any four-legged animal? Do we call them dogs because people generally like dogs, and it is more disarming to engage with a robot dog instead of a robot goat? or robot cat?

    I agree with Stephanie and think this is such a dumb way to spend a lot of money, money which could be used elsewhere. The NYPD really needs to hire a PR consultant.

  4. Kelly Hammond

    First, I just spent a lot of time laughing out loud at the idea of a robot goat. Thanks, Tess, for that. And Catherine, thanks for your post. It takes our discussions that have focused largely on the human/tech relationship into a broader mechanical biosphere. To me, there are two big issues at play here. One is what some of us have referred her to as bad PR, but which I’d expand into historical ignorance. While tv procedural shows may bring to mind police dogs being used to sniff out drugs or follow the scent of a victim, my mind couldn’t help but pull up images from the Civil Rights movement where dogs were used against nonviolent protesters (see attached) or even farther back to the use against people who ran away from enslavement. Given the legacy of that history in the presence, any high-profile police dogs, mechanical or real, seem a horrible decision.

    The other issues is one of capacity—of what these robot dogs can and are expected to do. I think we can all get behind robots that diffuse bombs. Bombs are never used for good and the risk involved in dismantling them is great. So, robots to the rescue. Similarly, if the robot dogs were working for the fire department—to charge into the flames to film the situation inside—their use would be far more understandable. However, robots as proxies for thinking human beings who can be held accountable for their decisions is another thing. It reifies our assumptions that technology is unbiased (which it isn’t), and it makes crime fighting seem like a dispassionate enterprise, which it isn’t.

  5. Ryan Yaffee

    This dog represents the Cyborg use for the new pets. I understand the idea of using robots to replace human jobs that people do while risking thier lives. Machines are made by humans, because of this, it brings the biases into a new form. As looking creepy, technology has its creepiness until it becomes part of the social norm or socially expected as part of daily lives.
    I would be upset about police using more money after crime than to spend the money making programs for youth and teenagers that can prevent the crime from the beginning.

  6. Carolle Pinkerton

    Hello Catherine,
    At first glance, the robot dog struck me as amusing! Thanks for sharing. I think that it should be used. However, some changes should be made to the dog’s appearance to help calm down the onlookers. Perhaps it should have a built-on announcer when it is walking to alert people that it is a robot. Maybe also, flashing lights would help people to see that it is fake. It would just take some getting used to for people to stop being frightened when they see it. When cars came out, people were frightened by them as well and called them horse-less wagons. The main problem with the robot dog seems to be fear, and that can slowly but surely be overcome. I think they are called dogs because dogs are common pets that are loyal to their masters. It’s just something for the everyone else to relate to.

  7. Amanda Filchock (she/her)

    Definitely mixed feelings about the robot crime-fighting dog. I see benefit in using it in places where it’s not completely safe for humans to enter: dismantling bombs, burning building, active shooter/hostage situation. But I agree with Kelly’s point about the sensitivity around using a dog given history’s cruel use of dogs for hunting humans.
    I also wonder where people are willing to draw the line with robots? Most are not OK with the robot dog for police enforcement, but are OK with home assistants, robots used in surgery, pacemakers, etc. Is it the context in which the robot is being used that makes people feel comfortable? Or something else?

  8. Melinda Byam

    As some others have said above, my stance on the use of these robot crime fighting dogs stems from their intent of use and whether or not they are are a beneficial contribution to the publics well being. Robot dogs used in bomb squads are generally seen as welcomed additions, they help prevent bombs going off and protect human bodies from potential harm. These robot dogs are removing a human element of our police force, on the surface this could seem like a benefit, if it were possible for these robots to act without the prejudices, biases and racism that plagues our police forces. Unfortunately, as we have read and discussed, without eradicating these same prejudices, biases and racist practices from society, they are simply embedded in technology.

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