A few days ago, a group of police officers came out of a public building in Manhattan, having arrested an armed man who was hiding in a woman's apartment. What provoked reactions was a robot dog that came out of the building with the police, thus raising many questions about policing in New York.
The robot dog is equipped with lights and cameras, to show the locations of police operations in real time, while relying on Artificial Intelligence (AI). It weighs 30 kg, while it can run at a speed of 5 km / h, as well as climb stairs.
According to the police, the robot dog only passed through the lobby of the building without playing an active role in the operation. However, his mere presence in a public building provoked a strong reaction, with many condemning it as a shocking example of police power and wrong priorities, stressing that such a thing could be disastrous for the United States.
Jamaal Bowman, a member of the House of Representatives, said in a video posted on Twitter: "You can not give me a living wage, raise the minimum wage and provide affordable housing. I work hard and I can not get paid leave or child leave. Do we still give taxpayers' money to robot dogs? "
In addition, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference on April 14 that he had not seen the robot dog working, but shared concern that if for any reason it bothered people, the issue should be reconsidered. . He added that he would discuss the matter with Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea.
The introduction of the robot dog comes as U.S. police face tight scrutiny over their policies and practices, especially with the murder trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd. Floyd's death sparked a storm of backlash against police in the United States, with many calling for money cuts to be made to support police and more money to be given to social programs.
In New York City last summer, the City Council passed a bill that for the first time requires the police to disclose information about the tracking tools it uses, which are among the most advanced in America and include license plate readers, cell phone detectors. and drones.
On April 14, Maya Wiley, a Democratic candidate and former MSNBC analyst, spoke out against the use of the robot dog by police in New York, arguing it was a waste of money but also a threat to New Yorkers. The device costs at least $ 74.000, according to a spokeswoman Boston Dynamics, the company that manufactures it.
Scott M. Stringer, a Democratic mayoral candidate, said police should not focus on "finding new and more sophisticated ways to harass the poor and colored." "As mayor, I think we should invest in people, not police dogs.", he said.
The use of robot dogs by the police, similar to those shown in the episode Metalhead of the series Black Mirror, has received strong criticism since September 2019 when Boston Dynamics presented the product.
The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concern that without proper management, devices that are remotely controlled and based on artificial intelligence could eventually become autonomous and make their own decisions, possibly reinforcing police bias. The Union has also expressed concern about the confidentiality and range of devices that are ultimately used as "weapons".
Michael Perry, a senior fellow at Boston Dynamics, said that of the approximately 500 robotic dogs in operation worldwide, most are used in utilities, construction sites or other commercial environments characterized by dangerous conditions.
Perry added that only four of the devices have been used by police. Apart from New York, the others are the Massachusetts State Police, the Honolulu Police Department and a law enforcement agency in the Netherlands. He also said that the terms and conditions governing the use of the device prevent it from developing as a "weapon". "We do not want our robots to be used in a way that harms humans", he said.
In response to questions about the robot dog, the police department said that New York officers have been using robots for 50 years in hostage and hazardous materials situations where people could be in danger.