Civil Liberties Activists Demand Answers on Potentially Lethal Robots Used by Massachusetts Police

Massachusetts state police recently deployed a robot dog designed by Boston Dynamics as a “mobile remote observation device” to provide certain intelligence to law enforcement, and they are being deliberately vague about the specific details regarding its usage.

“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” state police spokesman David Procopio wrote.

Boston Dynamics vice president for business development Michael Perry hopes that use of their robot dog and other models will be vastly expanded in law enforcement and other fields in the near future.

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“Right now, our primary interest is sending the robot into situations where you want to collect information in an environment where it’s too dangerous to send a person, but not actually physically interacting with the space,” Perry said.

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Perry maintains that he does not want the robot dog or any of their other state-of-the-art products to be used to harm anyone.

“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” he said. “So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody.”

While Boston Dynamics may not want their robots to become lethal, they could have already opened Pandora’s Box with their innovation. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts is demanding immediate answers before this situation unfolds into a dystopian nightmare.

“There is a lot we do not know about how and where these robotics systems are currently deployed in Massachusetts. All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react. We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies,” said Kade Crockford, who works as the ACLU Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Program Director.

The ACLU is requesting “documents, including emails, discussing, referencing, or pertaining to the weaponization of any robotics.” They hope that by getting this information out into the public eye, they can help lawmakers make informed decisions that will mitigate the negative impacts that these robots may have on society.

“We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence. Massachusetts must do more to ensure safeguards keep pace with technological innovation, and the ACLU is happy to partner with officials at the local and state levels to find and implement solutions to ensure our law keeps pace with technology,” Crockford said.

Boston Dynamics claims that they find the ACLU’s request to be reasonable, despite their relentless desire to push their robotic technology throughout the public and private sector.

“It’s certainly the case that when a new technology is employed, multiple stakeholders need to come to the table,” Perry said.

“I think the issues that the ACLU has raised specifically are applicable not just to our robots but to any new technology that is deployed. I’m not sure that what we bring to the table is significantly differentiated from anything that is already out there,” he added.

Because of rapid developments being made in the field of robotics, it may be too late for public policy to do anything to hold back the proliferation of robots. A Terminator-style eventuality may be inevitable at this point, regardless of the best efforts of civil liberties activists.

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