A police surveillance bot. Would you get hostile if this guy invaded your home? Image: PoliceMag
This is a thing that happens now, in our recently-arrived future: A drunk, gun-wielding maniac of a senior citizen is confronted in his home by a tiny police search robot, so he blasts it. He is subsequently arrested, thanks in part to the intel provided by the bot. In addition to being charged for possessing an illegal amount of ammo, he is slapped with vandalism.
The local newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, explains how this particular event unfolded: "The standoff began late Saturday ... after Waverly police responded to a call alleging Michael Blevins had been making threats and had fired a gun inside his home on the 600 block of Walnut Street, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said."
It turned out that Belvins was drunk, ornery, and refused to open the door. He held the police at bay for six hours until they called in the robots: "a trained negotiator with the patrol and Waverly Police Chief Larry Roe tried to speak with Blevins and get him to come out to no avail. The patrol’s team sent in a robot to determine Blevins’ location in the home. He reportedly used a pistol to shoot the robot, Junk said."
With the help of the surveillance gathered by the bots, the police were able to enter the house and immobilize Belvins with no major injuries. The robot wasn't so lucky.
Over at the Singularity Hub, David J. Hill notes that domestic human-robot battles are certain to rise, as municipal police forces beef up their squads with new technologies—which, yes, includes drones and surveillance bots. "In fact, last November another Ohio police department was showing off the recently acquired $11k AVATAR surveillance robot from RoboteX that will assist the SWAT team," Hill writes.
The AVATAR II surveillance bot in action. Image: Defense Review
Clearly, in cases like this one, the robot proved to be a boon to all involved—it allowed the police to help disarm and capture a potentially violent offender with minimal harm. But all sorts of questions are bound to arise in the future. What if the man is unarmed, his privacy has been unlawfully invaded, and he damages a bot with his bare hands? Still vandalism? Can we act in self-defense against surveillance bots? In such cases, allegations of robo-vandalism may feasibly and unfairly compound charges against citizens who might be justifiably freaked out that a robot is invading their space.
The million dollar question, of course, is what happens when these police robots begin to possess AI? In the shorter term, that might mean a drone unlawfully trespassing, or crash landing in your space. Who's accountable then? In the long-term, it might mean a weapon-wielding robot harming a human unlawfully. Scoff if you want, but legal scholars are already tackling this question, and it's a loaded one. Right now, the best you might be able to do is charge the manufacturer with negligence—but some criminal law specialists are working to establish a precedent for charging machines themselves with crimes. But that's a topic for another day.
For now, all we citizens have to contend with for the moment are nosy surveillance bots and drones—we're a ways off from Robocops and SWAT mechs yet. Then again, the bots already on the ground are being deployed by increasingly militarized police forces. Quick! Someone devise cheap home-defense robots to even the scales. And off we go.