The Robocop Continuum: Confronting automated and robotic policing


Dr. Monique MannIn July 2016, Dallas police deployed and detonated a remote controlled robot laden with explosives, resulting in the death of a sniper. This event drew widespread attention to robotics in policing, as this was the first time a robot had been used to kill outside the battlefield. However the use of robots to slay suspects, as in the Dallas case, represents but one extreme example of robotics in policing. There is a more nuanced continuum of police technologies being widely implemented in Australia, and around the world. Two opposing axes of hardware-software and autonomy-dependence define the continuum of police robots. This produces a typology of automated and robotic police technologies, including dependent (or human operated) robotic hardware, autonomous robotic hardware, dependent software and autonomous software. From dependent hardware police robots through to autonomous softbots, the social, legal and ethical issues become increasingly more complex and appreciation of this continuum of technologies precipitates important considerations concerning human rights, due process protections and regulatory approaches.

Human Operated Police Robots

Robots are increasingly part of law enforcement operations, and most robotic devices currently in use are human-operated. That is, the robot or machine complete tasks under human control and supervision. This may include functions ranging from bomb defusal to crowd dispersal (via the use of Long Range Acoustic Devices, LRADs). The actions of these robots can be attributed to human decision-making, however this is not to say these technologies are unproblematic or do not raise important ethical, social and legal concerns. One major unresolved issue concerns the use of both lethal and non-lethal force by human operated robots, as was the case in the Dallas incident. Yet when decision-making becomes increasingly abstracted from human actors, further issues emerge…Click here to read full article.


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