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.