When RoboCop came out in 1987 it promised a near future where robots were a regular part of the police force. It seemed like a fantastical idea at the time and for much of time period since. A couple of weeks back though, the Dubai police department announced a development that left some wondering if the film was so far-fetched after all.
During the recent Gulf Information Security and Expo Conference, the Dubai police force announced that it would be deploying a police robot to the city’s streets with immediate effect.
The robot officer, built with assistance from IBM Watson and Google, stands 170cm tall and weighs 100kgs. It can recognise gestures from 1.5m away, bow, salute, speak multiple languages, and even recognise emotions.
So does that mean Dubai’s finest should fear for their jobs?
While the specs we’ve revealed so far might make Dubai’s robo cop sound impressive, it’s important to be clear that it’s not going to bust through doors to take down bad guys any time soon. Its primary function is not to deter serious crime, but take over smaller, more tedious jobs. It can assist people on the streets or in shopping malls and they can also use its built-in tablet to report crimes instead of having to find a police station.
For now then, the robot will simply be making things a little easier for the current workforce, allowing them to concentrate on fighting more serious crimes.
Interestingly, it’s a slightly different approach to the one taken by most police departments employing robots.
Many departments around the world use semi-autonomous robots for a variety of tasks. These range from bomb-disposal to crowd control and drone capture.
Unlike the Dubai Police robot, most of these robots are designed to help out cops in situations that would be dangerous to human beings.
The shape of things to come
To a large degree, that makes sense. In many parts of the world, policing is incredibly dangerous. Eliminate as much of that risk as possible and you’re less likely to lose highly-trained people who have an important role to play in the community.
Interestingly though that doesn’t seem to be the thinking behind Dubai’s robot police programme. Instead, according to Brigadier-General Khalid Nasser Al Razouqi, Director of the Smart Services Department for the Dubai Police, the department hopes to replace a quarter of its forces with similar robots by 2030.
Robots are just a small part of Dubai Police’s plan too. Speaking to Gulf News, Brigadier Al Razouqi announced that the city’s law enforcers also hope to have the first smart police station, with no human officers, by 2030.
“We are aiming to implement many smart police mechanisms, including the smart police station and robots, and adopt artificial intelligence,” Brigadier Al Razouqi said.
Does it make sense?
But outside of keeping people out of danger, does replacing human officers with robots make sense?
Certainly, the effects probably wouldn’t be too detrimental when it comes to the minor things that law enforcement officers currently have to deal with, such as vehicle accident reports and certifying documents.
There’s also an argument to be made that robots can deal with situations less violently than their human counterparts. They could, for instance, capture a suspect without firing a gun because, unlike a human police officer, they don’t have to worry about their life being in danger.
A robot police officer could also have instant access to something like a DNA database to run against the evidence they find at a crime scene. In the same scenario, a human officer might have to call in an expert.
At the same time though, a lot of effective policing requires empathy and the ability to make connections that robots probably can’t at this point.
It’s likely then that while robots might replace some police officers, it probably wouldn’t be the best move to have them replace all police officers.
Image: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images