Robots that kill for the police. It is not the sequel to some Sci-Fi blockbuster, but a concrete proposal from the San Francisco Police to fight crime. If the proposal is accepted by the Board of Supervisors (US Court of Supervisors), the robots already used by police to defuse bombs or explore dangerous areas could be licensed to kill suspects. The Law Enforcement Equipment Policy proposal specifies that robots could only be licensed to kill “when the risk of losing the lives of civilians or agents is imminent and there are no other options”, but it is clear that there is no shortage of controversy.
The American police are already known for having used technology in a questionable way, for example to brutally and indiscriminately file sympathizers or simple suspects in the Black Lives Matter movement. This would be a further step that expands the technological dominance even in fields that require greater attention and delicacy.
The bill has received criticism on several fronts: “We live in a dystopian future, where we discuss the possibility of policemen killing citizens without a trial, a jury or a judge,” commented Tifanei Moyer of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco.
“With killer robots, officers could pull the trigger more easily,” said Yoel Haile (ACLU of Northern California), who called the bill a “terrible idea”. “I still can’t believe it’s a serious proposition,” said Dean Preston of the Board of Supervisors, adding that the matter would be almost comical if it weren’t so serious.
If the law is passed in San Francisco, it would not be the first time that robots have been used to kill alleged criminals: in 2016, the Dallas Police Department used a robot bomb to eliminate a gunman who had already killed five officers and wounded several others. Following popular protests in the American city (with the slogan “No killer robots, we’ve all seen that movie”), the initiative was slowed down. But there is no sign that it has been cancelled, as requested by many.