Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me

Depending on your perspective, CNet has what’s either a charming or horrifying story on Dubai’s rollout of robotic policemen:

The Robocop is a customised service robot from Pal Robotics that will be posted in malls and tourist attractions, and people can use the touchscreen embedded in its chest to report crime, pay fines and get information.

Okay, so it seems like this first version is not the horrifying, T-1000 prototype of our nightmares but really just an adorable kiosk. However, the discussion about their future plans are the really interesting part. To continue from CNet:

According to Al Razooqi, the Dubai police plan to add robots until they reach around 25 percent of the force by 2030, allowing the human members of the police to focus their attention on other areas.

This is, like most growths in automation, tremendous. It provides the potential for police officers to have eyes and ears in places that they otherwise could not or would be too dangerous. It also has the potential to encourage more friendly interaction between citizens and lovable robo-police, which is a vital part of effective community policing (the interaction part, not the robo-police part). And, of course, there are the issues of race and policing that this would throw an interesting, and most likely positive, monkey wrench into. Robots could be programmed to be completely race neutral, which our police cannot.

Of course, the downside is, what happens to the human cops? If this is just supplementing them, that’s great. But the course of history tells us that this will most likely have a negative impact on human employment. Unlike some other ones we’ve discussed, this is not a large segment of the population. Current estimates are that in the U.S. we have between three quarters of a million and a million sworn officers of the law. That’s not a large impact on our economy, but that’s still a lot of good, middle class jobs that don’t require advanced degrees. And now it looks like they aren’t immune from the march of progress like we thought.

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