San Francisco police ask for ‘license to kill’ for their robots

San Francisco police are asking for their robots

The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) wants to give robots the ability to use lethal force in dangerous situations.

The San Francisco Police Department is proposing a new policy that would give robots a license to kill. The draft document on SFPD’s use of military-style weapons states that robots can be “used as a lethal force option when the risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers is imminent” and when “robots outweigh any other use of force option.”

According to Mission Local, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors Committee have been reviewing the new equipment policy for several weeks. An initial version of the bill did not include any wording on the use of lethal force by robots, until Aaron Peskin, chairman of the city’s Board of Supervisors, added the clarification that “a robot cannot be used to use force against anyone.” However, the SFPD returned a draft of the project with Peskin’s addition struck out. Instead, it was replaced with a line that gives robots the right to “kill criminal suspects.”

According to Mission Local, Peskin ultimately decided to accept the change because “scenarios are possible where the use of lethal force is the only option.” Last week, the San Francisco Rules Committee unanimously approved a version of the project that will go before the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 29.

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The SFPD currently has 17 remote-controlled robots, but only 12 of them are operational. In addition to giving the robots the ability to use lethal force, the proposal also allows them to be used in “training and simulation, apprehension of criminals, critical incidents, emergency situations, warrant execution or evaluation of suspicious devices.”

While most of the robots listed in the SFPD inventory are primarily used for bomb disposal or handling hazardous materials, the new Remotec models are equipped with an additional weapon system, and the F5A model has a tool called a “PAN disruptor” that can charge a 12 – th caliber (usually it is used to detonate bombs at a distance).

A Talon-mounted machine gun is the same type used by the SFPD.  Image: Staff Sergeant Lori Jewell, US Army
A Talon-mounted machine gun is the same type used by the SFPD. Image: Staff Sergeant Lori Jewell, US Army

The department’s QinetiQ Talon model can also be modified with a variety of weapons — an armed version of the robot is used by the US Army and can be equipped with grenade launchers, machine guns, or even a 50-caliber sniper rifle.

“The SFPD has always had the ability to use deadly force when the risk of loss of life to citizens or officers was imminent and outweighed any other available force option. SFPD does not have a specific plan — extremely dangerous or spontaneous operations where police would require the use of lethal force by a robot would be rare and exceptional circumstances,” SFPD Officer Eva Laokwansatithaya said in a statement to The Verge.

In 2016, Dallas police first used a lethal force robot — the same Remotec F5A model the SFPD owns with an explosive device — to take down a suspect who killed five cops and wounded several others. At the time, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the department “saw no other option than to use a robot with a built-in bomb — to detonate it where the suspect was.”

Last month, a report by The Intercept revealed that police in Oakland, California, are also considering allowing Remotec F5A robots equipped with shotguns to use lethal force. Shortly after the report was released, Oakland police announced on Facebook that they had decided not to add “armed remote vehicles” to the department.

A group of robot manufacturers, including Boston Dynamics, signed a pledge not to use their robots as weapons earlier this year.

“We believe that adding weapons to works that are remotely or autonomously controlled, widely accessible to the public, and capable of moving into previously inaccessible places where people live and work creates new risks of harm and serious ethical issues. The use of these new robots as weapons will also affect public trust in the technology, undermining the enormous benefits they will bring to society,” the letter said.

The companies also cited “public concerns that have grown in recent months” and stressed that they will try to prevent their customers from later weaponizing any platforms sold to them. They are also calling on politicians and the rest of the robotics community to make similar commitments.

Source: The Verge, Techspot

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