Robot Police Dog Prompts Civil Liberty Fears in Massachusetts

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When Boston Dynamics released videos of Spot, a sturdy four-legged robot, the public was captivated. The nimble doglike robot was seen climbing up and down stairs, dancing to Bruno Mars, hauling a large truck and opening a door with ease, offering a futuristic glimpse of robotic potential that many online observers found shocking. The same utilitarian qualities that made Spot fascinating to some and “terrifying” to others have attracted the interest of the Massachusetts State Police, which has become the first law enforcement agency to put the robotic dog to work, according the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, reports the Washington Post. The 70-pound robot with a top speed of three mph was “leased” to the law enforcement agency’s bomb squad for a 90-day period from August to November.

The purpose was to evaluate “the robot’s capabilities in law enforcement applications, particularly remote inspection of potentially dangerous environments which may contain suspects and [ordnance].” Police said Spot was “used operationally” on two occasions; details were not divulged, but the agency said the robot was tasked with “providing remote inspection of potentially hazardous objects and dangerous environments that might contain criminal suspects or explosive devices.” Boston Dynamics was purchased by Japan’s SoftBank from Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in 2017. The company has become known for creating robots whose movements mimic humans and animals and posting cryptic videos of those robots online. The ACLU’s Kade Crockford said government agencies “should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies. We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence.”

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