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San Francisco Board Changes Its Mind, Will Not Allow Police To Deploy Killer Robots … For Now

The ANDROS Wolverine V2 robot, a small white device with treads and a long gripper arm.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has temporarily barred the San Francisco Police Department from using robots to kill people, sending the proposal back to committee for further discussion following public outcry.

The decision was a reversal from the board’s previous decision last week, which allowed police to use robots “as a deadly force option when risk of loss of life to members of the public or officers are imminent and outweigh any other force option available to the SFPD,” according to a draft proposal submitted by the police department.

Police wanted the ability to put explosives on its robots, similar to the robot that was used to kill a sniper in Dallas in 2016. The Board of Supervisors’ vote came as part of a new California law that requires police departments to inventory their military-grade equipment. SFPD currently owns 17 robots.

The board reversed its decision after the ACLU of Northern California and other members of the public spoke out against the new policy.

“It is ludicrous to militarize a local police department that was given 272 reform recommendations from the Department of Justice,” said one speaker at the rally. “When you weaponize a police force, we know disproportionately those weapons will be used against people of color.” The ACLU shared the statement on its Twitter feed.

Tifanei Moyer, senior staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, told local news organization Mission Local that “We are living in a dystopian future, where we debate whether the police may use robots to execute citizens without a trial, jury, or judge …. This is not normal. No legal professional or ordinary resident should carry on as if it is normal.”

Even Boston Dynamics, the company that designed and manufactured the now infamous four-legged dog-like robots, has written an open letter denouncing the use of “general-purpose” robots to kill people. “We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues. Weaponized applications of these newly-capable robots will also harm public trust in the technology in ways that damage the tremendous benefits they will bring to society. For these reasons, we do not support the weaponization of our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots.”

(featured image: Wikimedia Commons)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.