This week the NYPD showed off their newest technological abomination: A robotic dog designed to roam the streets and spy on citizens.
Pretty soon our streets will be swarming with robotic dogs surveilling us, all in the name of ‘security’ and ‘keeping the peace’ and other white supremacist dog-whistles. It’s only a matter of time before they arm these robots as well, then they can call the police killings “miscalculations” and never take any responsibility. They will blame their algorithms for police brutality, say “if we can only get the technique just right, we can stop these police bots from being so racist.”
You may think this is all some science fiction nonsense, but it's not that far from the way things are right now. The police have always justify their most strident abuses by claiming that it's for the good of ‘public safety’, but at this point, they don’t even bother answering for their decisions. They see themselves as the blue line standing between the people and those in power, and I guess I’m on the wrong side.
Surveillance, control, and robot police dogs
English philosopher Jeremy Bentham theorized a particular type of prison called the panopticon. This prison would be the height of asymmetric observation. He argued that by placing a single watchtower with opaque glass in the center of a round prison that can see all of the cells, prisoners wouldn’t know when they were being watched or not. Bentham argued that this social arrangement would result in the internalization of the watchmen.
Foucault famously used the panopticon as an example of how the control society works to systematically reduce peoples agency through constant surveillance. Foucault used the term biopower to describe the effect of this type of surveillance, in which the state and institutions are able to control people's lives and bodies through apparatuses of watching.
The deployment of cameras, drones, and now robot police dogs to surveil us is alarming to anyone concerned with freedom, not just because those are all tools the can harm those in disciplined spaces like prisons or schools, but also because they are turning these tools against society at large.
The state is invading our everyday life with even more impersonal surveillance and discipline, all in the name of security benefits that they can’t even prove.
Another way to think about the police’s ongoing war against the public is through Virillio’s war machine lens. When we started deploying drones overseas, most Americans either didn’t know or didn’t care what was happening. During Obama’s “progressive” presidency, tens of thousands of civilians died at the “hands” of America’s robots. Americans, of course, never considered what would happen if the government turned those tools against us, because American exceptionalism made such a thought impossible.
In recent years, American police forces have become increasingly militarized. There were even reports last summer of military-style drones flying over BLM protests. The police budgets continue to go up, despite unprecedented protests demanding the opposite. They keep investing in heavier and heavier firepower to terrorize people with, which only makes the police better at violently suppressing the protests against themselves.
The worst part about all of this is that no one cares. No one with any power seems to see any issues with the totalizing power of the police, even as they murder people in the streets with no accountability.
The increasing violence of the police state isn’t a coincidence either. The U.S. military is the one supplying many of the armed vehicles and heavy weapons to our police departments. Those departments have to justify owning all of that shit by using it, against us. They will say it’s in the name of security, but the truth is they are “endocolonizing”. They are turning their desire for control outside of America into ways of controlling the population of America directly.
Virilio described the process of endocolonization as the moment when an imperial government (like the U.S.) turns its powers and military apparatuses inward, colonizing the minds and resources of their own people with an increasingly militarized domestic policing ideology. The ever-increasing power of the police to suppress and abuse populations is not an unfortunate accident, it was a structural, systemic choice made by policing and militaristic institutions in this country.
With the police in our country embracing war-like mentalities, including “warrior training”, and gaining access to end-game loot when it comes to killing civilians, do we really want to also give them AI-enabled robots to spy on us with? Doesn’t that cross the line for anyone else?
Please, someone, tell me I am not crazy. I can’t be the only one who saw those movies!
Ban the dog robots, please
As we saw recently with Lieutanent Nazario being assaulted by the police, even our military service members are no longer safe from the terror of policing. The police robot dogs are not pointing to a distant dystopian future that might happen, they are attempts to further entrench the dystopian present that we are currently experiencing.
I personally think that it would be better to not give a violent, historically racist institution like the American police even more technology to surveil and control people with. But that’s just one person’s opinion.
The fact that our society is willing to uncritically accept robot surveillance is ridiculous to me. It’s a dark day when America thinks that it is not only acceptable but ‘cool’ that the police would be given untethered power to invade our privacy and our communities.
The police shouldn’t be able to spy on us without having a physical presence in the community. We should ban the use of this technology and if Isaac Asimov were here, he would say the same thing. I read i-Robot, I know what happens.
(P.S. if we defund the police, they won’t be able to afford robots. Just saying…)
(P.P.S. If Boston Dynamics took some moral responsibility and refused to sell these to the police, that would be nice too.)