A National Lab Is Promoting a “Digital Police Officer” Fantasy for Law Enforcement and Border Control

EFF – by Dave Maass

Researchers at a national laboratory are forecasting a future where police and border agents are assisted by artificial intelligence, not as a software tool but as an autonomous partner capable of taking the steering wheel during pursuits and scouring social media to target people for closer investigation. The “Digital Police Officer” or “D-PO” is presented as a visionary concept, but the proposal reads like a pitch for the most dystopian buddy cop movie ever.

The research team is based out of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a facility managed by the corporation Battelle on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. They have commissioned concept art and published articles in magazines aimed at law enforcement leaders, EFF has learned through a review of materials, including records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“To leverage the full power of artificial intelligence, we need to know how people can best interact with it,” they write in a slide deck that starts with a robot hand and a human hand drawing each other in the style of the famous M.C. Escher artwork. “We need to design computing systems that are not simply tools we use, but teammates that we work alongside.”

For years, civil liberties groups have warned about the threats emerging from increased reliance by law enforcement on automated technologies, such as face recognition and “predictive policing” systems. In recent years, we’ve also called attention to the problems inherent in autonomous police robots, such as the pickle-shaped Knightscope security patrol robots and the quadrupedal “dog” robots that U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to deploy along the U.S.-Mexico border

The PNNL team’s vision for “human-machine teaming” goes so much further.

“Al plays an active role in the mission by learning from the human and its environment,” the researchers write in a slide defining the term. “It uses this knowledge to help guide the team without requiring specific direction from the human.”

The Digital Police Officer

In articles published in Police Chief, the official magazine of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Domestic Preparedness Journal, the researchers introduce a fictional duo named Officer Miller and her electronic sidekick, D-PO (an apparent play on C-3PO), who’ve been patrolling the streets together for five years.

Here’s what they would look like, according to concept art commissioned by PNNL:

See it here and read the rest: EFF

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