Preparing for the Era of Robocops on Wheels
So you’re cruising down Broadway, grooving to a great tune on your stereo when suddenly you see flashing light in the rearview mirror. You pull over like a good citizen. Much to your surprise it’s a robocop that clocked you going 20 miles over the speed limit. There are no human co-pilots in the cop car. Only a friendly robot sworn to serve and protect and write tickets.
The era of police hiding behind bushes and catching drivers who exceed 30 miles per hour may be coming to an end. In years, maybe decades, the young officer with a quota could be replaced by a robotic cop car. Unsympathetic to excuses and invulnerable to flirtation, the robot will flash its lights to pull you over. It will scan your driver’s license, decide whether to issue a warning or ticket, and inform you of its decision before letting you drive off. The concept is outlined in a Ford patent filing for a self-driving cop car capable of using artificial intelligence, “to find good hiding spots to catch violators of traffic laws.” An optional human passenger could override settings that prevent the car from breaking traffic laws itself.
It’s the era in which some legal systems are using algorithms to mete out justice in courtrooms. When a robocop begins giving tickets, will it be easier or harder on the driver who gets caught? Some experts expect real-world adoption of the concept. “A widely-distributed, autonomous police presence is not hard to imagine. We have to ask: Do we want to live in a world blanketed with autonomous police cars?” asked Ed Walters, who teaches at Georgetown University’s law school and at Cornell Tech.
We all have had run-ins with the law on one level or another. Especially with traffic stops. But we have had the interaction of a fellow human up to this point. Now comes an authority figure that shows no compassion, or emotion. But the robocop goes on its instructions from its software. “One of the greatest gifts a law enforcement officer has is his or her ability to use discretion,” Demings said. “Automation has its place, but it could never replace the wisdom, courage, and compassion found in an officer’s heart and soul.”