Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Cyberpunk World: The Coming of the RoboPolice

The article: Future police: Meet the UK's armed robot drones

It's happening in Britain now. The UK already has already set up a comprehensive surveillance regime. Its police force is already thoroughly militarized, even more than in the US (and more like Israel's). Now it's about to go to the logical extreme: complete automation of the entire law enforcement system. With robots. RoboPolice.

I know what you're thinking: Where's V when you need him?

Science fiction is said to be a series of predictions about which technologies will become real. So far, space-based SF doesn't have a good record. But there is one branch of science fiction that does: cyberpunk. Even if the predictions in the first-wave cyberpunk of the pre-Internet age include some embarrassments, cyberpunk is the subgenre that has come closest to becoming reality. In fact, it is our reality now. We live in the cyberpunk universe.

Case in point: the new robot police force being planned for the UK. Robot police are more efficient, really. There's no chance of human error. Robots can torture and kill without the slightest shred of human conscience (not to mention consciousness). They obey without question. For this reason, robot police are the wet dream of technocrats. To them, their virtue is that they remove the human element. Robot police are pure reason made reality.

There are, however, a couple problems with this dream. The first is that measures always create countermeasures. You got tased? It won't have any effect on you if you're wearing conductive clothing (or, like Spanner's sisters, you're electrokinetic). Flying robot platforms? You can use model planes against them, and even turn them into platform-hunting drones with an onboard computer. Jet fighter pilots have long used metallic chaff to distract homing missiles. And so on.

The other problem is that robots are controlled by computers. And computers can be hacked. If you want to remotely control your robot police, especially by remote computers, you need a wireless network — but don't let the hackers intercept or hijack it. And watch out if hackers turn your robot police against you.

Back in the '90s, when cyberpunk was relatively new (at least to me) and I had fallen freshly under its influence, I added to Spanner a force of android police that could pass as human despite their lack of feeling (because so many human police are equally unfeeling). What Spanner does to them (at least early in the story) is use a wireless transmission device (which, fast-forward to 2010, I now know is a jailbroken iPhone) which causes any android police in range to tear off their heads, which of course deactivates them; this also serves as a warning to the authorities that their own robot weapons can be used against them. This particular tactic won't work on the less advanced but more common drone craft. But the idea's the same.

Remember, we're already living in the cyberpunk universe now. William Gibson and Neal Stephenson no longer have to make this stuff up!

No comments:

Post a Comment