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Massachusetts State Police show off robotic K-9 officers — and people are nervous


The force has been testing out the technology from research firm Boston Dynamics

Image source: MA State Police video screenshot

The Massachusetts State Police have released footage showing the department's testing of dog-like robots as part of its bomb squad unit, causing concern among civil rights advocates and prompting questions about how the K-9-looking RoboCops might be used.

What are the details?

For years, research firm Boston Dynamics has released videos of Spot, a customizable robot-dog with surveillance capabilities than can be "trained" to operate autonomously. This summer, the Massachusetts State Police became the first law enforcement agency to test out the "dogs" during a three-month lease, and have released their own videos to the press, showing off what they can do.

According to The Washington Post, Spot's capabilities are fascinating to some and "terrifying to others." WBUR-FM reported that civil liberties advocates are nervous that the robots could be "weaponized" and used against civilians.

Kate Crockford, director of technology for liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts told the outlet, "We just really don't know enough about how the state police are using this. And the technology that can be used in concert with a robotic system like this is almost limitless in terms of what kind of surveillance and potentially even weaponization operations may be allowed."

"We really need some law and some regulation to establish a floor of protection to ensure that these systems can't be misused or abused in the government's hands," Crockford continued, adding, "And no, a terms of service agreement is just insufficient."

Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio released a statement saying, "Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments."

Boston Dynamics says they do not want Spot to be "used in a way that can physically harm somebody," which is one of the reasons the firm offers lease agreements for customers to use the robots rather than providing them for sale.

Anything else?

WBUR noted that "while Spot and other tactical robots aren't designed to kill, they still can," pointing to the 2016 incident where a bomb-carrying robot was deployed by the Dallas Police Department to kill a sniper who murdered several police officers.

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