Last year, the police force of Dubai - the United Arab Emirate's luxurious second city - became one of the first to widely and routinely use Google Glass to help fight crime. It seems this program has piqued a technological lust, because they now plan to go quite a bit further.
The Dubai police force has now announced it intends to introduce "fully intelligent" robotic police patrol droids by 2017. Colonel Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi, who heads up the city's 'smart' unit, announced the plans in a keynote speech at the Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference, stating:
We are aiming to provide these kinds of services as the population is expanding. This way we can provide better services without hiring more people
Unfortunately, if you're imagining Robocop-esque bipedal cyborgs, or massive walking, machine-gun toting deathbots you might be bitterly disappointed (or relieved). The first generation of police bots will mostly be dispatched to low crime, but busy, tourist areas. Their duties seem to be limited mostly to providing information, directions and contacting and directing human police officers if required. Alrazooqi continued:
The robots will interact with people and tourists. They will include an interactive screen and microphone connected to Dubai Police call centers. People will be able to ask questions and make complaints, but they will also have fun interacting with the robots.
However, this will just be the beginning. Alrazooqi also explained the police force would be hoping to introduce more intelligent robots in the future, including those which can work autonomously and separately from human involvement. He continued:
These will rapidly become more intelligent though. We hope to have fully AI driven models on the street within four to five years.
These will be fully intelligent robots that can interact with people, with no human intervention at all. This is still under research and development, but we are planning on it.
The relative unique situation of Dubai - with its small population, massive funds and more global outlook - means the Middle Eastern city has long been an advocate for incorporating advanced, expensive technology into the police force. Earlier this year, the Dubai police unveiled their 'Luxurious Super Patrol Cars for a Luxurious City' program, which included adding over 100 luxury and high performance vehicles including Ferrari FFs, Bugatti Veyrons and Lamborghinis to the police fleet.
Like the forthcoming robots, the use of these cars is mostly limited to tourist areas, and they act as more of a public relations and marketing tool than practical law enforcement. Dubai has long been eager to promote itself to wealthy American and European tourists and corporations, and the introduction of these patrol bots could also help support this.
Although this might sound like the law enforcement of the future, there has already been progress into developing robotic security. Usually these developments are currently limited to roles in private corporations, with their duties most often involving parking enforcement and surveillance. However, Knightscope - a Silicon Valley based robotics startup - is already claiming to be developing the next generation of security droids, although little has been said about the possibilities of arming such robots. Are we likely to ever see something like Robocop's ED-209 roaming the streets?:
The development of such technology is likely to be extremely controversial. Already groups with the UN are taking steps to outlaw by international convention what have been termed "autonomous killing machines," while their introduction on the streets isn't likely to be easy.
Some could claim a Robocop-type police officer could enforce the letter of the law uniformly and without prejudice, however there are also big issues. The main one is that despite how 'intelligent' you make a robot, it is unlikely to have the sense of morality, sympathy, lateral thinking or empathy which is often a subtle element of police enforcement. As recent events have shown, the human police force can often get these things very wrong, and I'm not sure a robot would do much better either.