What Does Dallas Mean for Robots?

Earlier this month in Dallas, a man shot several police officers and fled to a parking garage. Police cornered the man and after hours of negotiation that included gunfire, Dallas police decided to use a robot to deliver an explosive that killed the man. This is such a big deal because it is the first time that police have intentionally used a robot for lethal purposes. The Chief of Dallas Police said that this was the only option that didn’t involve exposing police officers to grave danger. Are we talking about killer robots here?

We know that the military uses drones, and what those robots are capable of. We also know that the United Nations is discussing international regulations for “killer robots”. However, this story is a big deal because – according to CNN – it is the first time that a robotic system has been used by police for an intentionally lethal purpose.

What does this mean for robots?

Some people believe that this is a perfect example of how robots should be used. That is, to make life safer and easier for humans. Robots are all quite different from one another. Military and police robots are  different than the industrial robots that we work with, which are different than household robots. However, the purpose of robots is universal. Robots are supposed to make our lives safer and easier, or improve our lives in some way.

Others, however, believe that this is the first step down a slippery slope for how robots are used. They believe that this could be the start of a trend where police become accustomed to using robots for lethal reasons. This could cause people to become detached when faced with taking a human life.

Of course, police using robots to kill isn’t going to become the norm. What happened in Dallas was an extreme situation, with an unprecedented solution. The fact that it happened once does not mean that this will happen every day. It could however lead to people examining how robots can be used, and regulations on how they should be used.

Robotic technologies are advancing so rapidly. Robots are getting better and cheaper every day. You can put it in perspective by thinking of robots like personal computers. Computers used to be slow, limited, and expensive. Today, computers are powerful, fast, and affordable. When you consider where robotics will be in the future, and how increasingly important automation is in our lives, it makes sense to think about regulations that affect robot interactions with humans.