A Step Backwards for Automated Law Enforcement

Automation is the future, and everybody knows it. With all of the advantages that machines have over human workers, it’s reasonable to assume that anything that can be automated will eventually be automated. Sometimes the end of a profession is heralded a little prematurely, however. When Knightscope’s K5 first debuted, many compared the egg-shaped security robot to the futuristic RoboCop. It turns out humanity is far from automated law enforcement.

It’s not RoboCop, it is a security bot

Knightscope is one of the best-known makers of security robots. There are currently more than 50 Knightscope robots deployed across the U.S. The most popular robot in the Knightscope fleet is the K5. You can rent these robots for $7 an hour, which is less than minimum wage, but the robots run autonomously 24/7/365. This means the $60,000-$70,000 yearly cost of a K5 is similar that the yearly salary of a police officer.

The K5 robot features 360-degree HD video streaming, live audio broadcast, two-way intercom, automatic license plate recognition, people detection, thermal anomaly detection, and pre-recorded broadcast messages. These are all fantastic features that can help gather data and keep people safe, but the K5 has had a few missteps in the security and law enforcement profession since it was first deployed.

2019 — a Knightscope K5 security robot ignored a woman trying to report a fight in the park.

2016 — a K5 robot knocked over a 16-month-old toddler and ran over his foot.

2017 — a K5 robot, named Steve, fell into a mall fountain.

It’s easy to point out mistakes made by a machine. However, the K5 doesn’t have a bad track record. More importantly, Knightscope’s K5 robot was never meant to completely automate law enforcement. They are known as security robots, and are designed for mobile patrolling and surveillance.

According to Knightscope, their security robots have helped reduce and solve several crimes:

  • identified a hit and run suspect
  • prevented a major fire
  • prevented a fraudulent insurance claim
  • improved sense of safety
  • elicited a confession for two burglaries and felony property damage
  • provided evidence to arrest a suspect for armed robbery and vehicle theft
  • helped issue a warrant for a sexual predator
  • prevented theft
  • prevented trespassing
  • identified a vandal
  • prevented vehicle break-ins

Law enforcement may never be fully automated

There’s a long list of professions and occupations that are on the chopping block. Robots will replace everyone along the supply chain from the factory workers making products, to the truck drivers delivering goods to storefronts, and the sales associates working on retail floors.

However, we’re not anywhere close to automating law enforcement. We may never see police and law enforcement become completely automated. Law enforcement requires uniquely human skills that we haven’t been able to recreate with AI: empathy, relating to other humans, subjective problem-solving, judgement, and responding to variables in an uncontrolled setting.

We will continue to see law enforcement use technology to improve safety and provide better service. This is the same reason why we see increasing levels of automation in manufacturing: better safety, better performance, and improved efficiency.

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