In December 2022, San Francisco lawmakers voted to overturn a decision to allow police robots to wield deadly force.
In a controversial policy proposal, the 17 robots currently used by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) could have been equipped with explosive charges to take out active shooters or suicide bombers in ‘emergency’ situations.
While the policy was initially approved by lawmakers, officials have since overturned the policy in response to pressure from civil rights groups.
Humans will always make the final decision on whether armed robots can shoot, according to a statement by the US Department of Defense. Their clarification comes amid fears about a new advanced targeting system, known as ATLAS, that will use artificial intelligence in combat vehicles to target and execute threats. While the public may feel uneasy about so-called “killer robots”, the concept is nothing new – machine-gun wielding “SWORDS” robots were deployed in Iraq as early as 2007.
But our relationship with military robots goes back even further than that. This is because when we say ‘robot’, what we really mean is a technology with some form of ‘autonomous’ element that allows it to perform a task without the need for direct human intervention.