Don’t blame the robot

bomb squad robot

July 8th, 2016 will be remembered for the so-called first use of a robot to attack (and kill) a gunman in Dallas, TX. I’m reading this all around the internet today, with a number of Skynet-like hypothesis and dramatic questions involving the militarization of the police procedures all around the USA.

Well, I know for sure that fact-checking is not a prominent trait in many news outlets, not to mention the great mass of the social media horde. The point is not to state who came first, or more properly, what killed first. It’s about knowing what’s happening in the world and having the instruments needed to understand it.

So, here we are. First, the robot wasn’t autonomous but remote-controlled. By a human officer, under orders from human commanders. No Skynet, no AI, no nightmare scenarios involving mad scientist. Better luck next time, right?

Second, the difference between using a SWAT sniper to shoot down a criminal and delivering an explosive charge via a robot is technical and not moral. Robots are tools of the trade, no more and no less than a rifle. The real deal is the decision to act as judge and jury, to take a life in the name of public safety.

Third, it’s not the first time that a police department chooses to use a robot to attack a target. Anybody ’round here remembers what happened in 2014 when Albuquerque police used a robot to attack with chemical agents a man? The culprit was barricaded in a building, armed and dangerous.  In other circumstances, robots carried food, phones, and other items in hostage situations.

Face it, the problem is not about robots. Not in the USA, when the police are involved, not abroad where the extensive use of drones is favored by the US Armed Forces. The problem is about the level of conflict inside our societies. If a police officer knows for sure that he/she is likely to be attacked with guns and assault rifles (not to mention the occasional RPG), then it is so strange that said officer wants to be army-like equipped and prepared?

And again, when so many inquiries about excessive use of violence from police officers end with no consequences for the agents involved, is it so strange that somebody out there starts to think about taking the conflict in his/her own hands? We all know where this road ends. So, please quit babbling about robots and start asking for explainations, it’s high time to get things right.


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