The Speculist: Addition, Subtraction Part 2: Robocops


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Addition, Subtraction Part 2: Robocops

With the Gates-Crowley-Obama dust-up likely to sort itself out in a day or two over a pitcher of suds, I got to thinking about how and why such a controversy arose in the first place, and the role that human enhancement technology and robotics might play in mitigating such situations in the future.

So what happened? One of Cambridge Massachusetts' finest, a white officer, arrested a black Harvard professor for disorderly conduct after being called to the scene on suspicion that the professor was, in fact, a burglar attempting to break into his (own) home. Although there is contributory behavior from the neighbor making the 911 call and (clearly) from Professor Gates himself, most of the behavior that is under scrutiny is that of the arresting officer, James Crowley. It is asserted that he is guilty of:

1) Racial profiling of Gates in the first place, or

2) Overreacting to Gates' response to the whole affair, misusing the charge of Disorderly Conduct to punish Gates either for the pseudo crime of "contempt of cop" or for being an "uppity black man," or

3) Both of the above.

Having less than complete information on this case, I will refrain from commenting on whether either or both of those might be true (or whether anyone behaved "stupidly.") But a lot of this comes down to what it is reasonable to expect a person to say or to think under a given set of circumstances. A good deal of the controversy hinges on what was going on inside Crowley's head.

all of which reminds me of this idea from my recent musings on human enhancement by way of subtraction:

A great enhancement for people who want to make it in sales or show business or any number of other ventures would be the removal of the fear of rejection, along with some related forms of social anxiety. The individual who has no fear of being turned down, and who doesn't mind asking for something any number of times, has a distinct advantage over people who shy away from being too aggressive. That person also runs the risk of being feared and despised for being so obnoxious -- but then he or she wouldn't care about that.

Cops and other early responders might benefit from enhancements that enable quick thinking and physical strength / speed. But they might also benefit from having certain tendencies suppressed, such as the desire to lash out at someone who has already surrendered or the overarching fear of physical danger (although maybe not -- that's generally a pretty useful trait.) But what if we could suppress any tendency towards racial prejudice? Or what if cops could shut down a key piece of their egos before going on duty, making it unlikely that they would misapply a charge such as Disorderly Conduct because they felt personally disrespected?

Most of the controversy in a case such as Gates / Crowley would disappear, because either things wouldn't have gone the way they did in the first place or, if they did, because there would be no doubt as to the arresting officer's motives.

Enhanced human cops are one possible remedy to these controversies -- another would be artificially intelligent robot police officers. In that world, the cops might have to be trained to avoid engaging in "bio profiling." And civilians might protest that they are being condescended to just because the police happen to think a million times faster than they do. The idea of "robocops" might sound a little scary, and there are no doubt myriad potential problems that would arise from deploying a robotic police squad. But there would also be advantages in terms of the baggage that such officers wouldn't be carrying around. Accusing a robot of racial profiling or having power go to its head (assuming that those truly are things outside the scope of its design) would make about as much sense as accusing my lawnmower of sexually harassing the women in my neighborhood.


I have known feminists who would GLADLY accuse a lawnmower of sexual harassment, merely by virtue of it being a manifestation of Male Science.

I would never, ever trust a machine to handle something like the law. I'd rather have an imperfect human law enforcer who is accountable for his offenses than a "perfect", impeccable non-human law enforcer that might end up slaughtering everyone for "jaywalking" in a subdivision when something goes terribly wrong with his wiring, especially considering the prospect of terminating said "perfect" cop when it happens.

A cop goes crazy, he can be shot. A machine goes crazy, you better hope it has some damn fool-proof killswitch.

Traffic speed cameras are sort of robocops. In the UK the usuals were screaming about discrimination because blacks were ticketed for speeding more often than whites by patrolmen. Turned out the same ratio was present when robo-cameras caught speeders. Apparently the speed cameras were racially prejudiced as well--not!

I'd think the cops would need any available mental enhancement, and not be found condescending either, by virtue of citizens having access as well.

Why waste it on just cops, when it would be just as useful on doctors, scientists, traders on the floor, etc?

Lawnmowers incapable of harrassment?

You've never received a John Deere letter, have you?

From the information I've seen the enhancement would be better spent on Harvard Professors.

The only problem--who gets to program it? If it has to follow supreme court decisions, as well as protect itself and others, the contratictions would probably cause it to malfunction.

Same problem with requiring soldiers to follow the rules we impose on cops while taking prisoners on the battlefield.

I'd prefer a RoboSCOTUS. We might have better luck in getting it to apply policy rather than make it.

Yeah, well, what if the person who programmed the robot was racist?!

(You'll have people subpeonaing the robot's source code and going through it line by line, looking for the magic subroutine...)

[Comment redacted; inappropriate language removed.]

ED-209 approves, citizen.

Turning men into robocops is the sex-role switcheroo version of The Stepford Wives.

The former is a feminist fantasy - a male protector that's a sexual zero, never around, yet the paycheck keeps coming in - and the latter is a feminist boogey-girl fear.

"Traffic speed cameras are sort of robocops. In the UK the usuals were screaming about discrimination because blacks were ticketed for speeding more often than whites by patrolmen. Turned out the same ratio was present when robo-cameras caught speeders."
-- Rachelle Young, July 26, 2009 01:11 PM

"The usuals" (great phrase!) also whined that robo-cameras were busting a higher percentage of women for speed crimes than did human cops. An expensive study showed the difference was due to the soulless cameras being immune to female wiles. (Duh!) "The usuals" have not complained that speed enforcement by cops is unfair and discriminates against men. Instead, feministas call that "equality".

"If all were punished
as they deserve, none
would 'scape whipping."

The re-write of the laws
required to avoid Robocop
putting everybody in jail
would be a bigger benefit
than the end of biased

As it turns out, there already are human beings who have little or no fear of social rejection. They are an interesting bunch. Psychiatrists call them psychopaths.

Don't know, maybe human nature as it is is not that bad after all....

Ruy --

Exactly the point of the original Addition, Subtraction piece.

M. Report --

Well said!

AST --

RoboSCOTUS is pretty much what you end up with in this scenario. Might work?

Cirby --

That was really awful. Thank you.

The False God --

Well, you have to design them so they can be automatically and remotely shut down any time anything seems amiss. That's fairly easy to do with a machine, and virtually impossible to do with a human being.

Ellen --

If the accusation sticks will they take my lawnmower away? That would free up some weekend time

Maybe something to remove the self-importance from Harvard professors?

Or maybe from professors in general.

They seem to forget that while they are big fish, they occupy, what to the rest of us, a very small pond.

There are probably more people that can name all of the tele-tubbies than can tell you who Prof Gates is.

His fame seems to consist of being black and memorizing every racial slight of the past 300 years.

While past inequaties and downright wrongs are unfortunate, they are in the past and cannot be changed no matter how pure the intentions.

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