Robot News Roundup

News about robots is abundant today. It looks like automation or human-robot relationships are represented by the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

robot

Image: The Los Angeles Times

A story reported by the Los Angeles Times states “Man vs. machine: L.A. sheriff’s deputies use robot to snatch rifle from barricaded suspect, end standoff”.

You’ve probably heard about how last summer a robot was used to kill the Dallas Black Lives Matter shooter by exploding a bomb. The decision was made to take the shooter out in this manner to minimize the risk of sending police officers after a heavily barricaded suspect. A great deal of debate ensued discussing the ethical and moral issues in eliminating a human threat by remote control making police use of robots seem ill-advised.

In the L.A. Times story, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies used a robot to observe an armed and dangerous suspect who was hiding in a dirt berm surrounded by shrubbery and wire fencing in a remote field in the Antelope Valley.

Deputies observed via the robot, that the suspect had his rifle resting at his feet. Using a number of different distractions to get the suspect’s attention, the robot was sent back in to grab the rifle with its claw and carry it out of the area.

The suspect, 51-year-old Brock Ray Bunge, didn’t notice his firearm was missing until the robot returned to remove the wire fencing.

Bunge was subsequently arrested and is in custody. A great day for law enforcement and robotics.

The Bad

The flip side of the story is when a robot is treated like a criminal.

ABC.net.au news reports “Robot arrested by Russian police at political rally in Moscow”. I’ve read the story several times and it’s difficult for me to understand exactly what this robot did wrong.

Apparently, it was rented by political candidate Valery Kalachev, who is running for the Russian Parliament. The machine called Promobot, was supposedly recording the opinions of voters “for further processing and analysis by the candidate’s team.”

This must be a crime in Russia, because the police detained Promobot and attempted to handcuff the machine.

Given that a mechanical device, in and of itself, cannot commit a crime, I don’t think it can be legally arrested. It looks like law enforcement, for lack of any other response, fell back on standard procedure. Couldn’t they have just shut Promobot off and arrested Kalachev instead?

The Ugly

Last month, I wrote a blog post called When Your Sex Toy Tattles On You. A Canadian company called Standard Innovation Corp produces a high-end, smartphone enabled vibrator called the We-Vibe Plus.

The device has an app that can be downloaded onto a smartphone, allowing the smartphone user to manipulate the type and intensity of vibrations being delivered to their partner. As it turns out, the app also uploads a variety of intimate details about the encounter back to the manufacturer, and the information is then used as research for product enhancement.

CTV News Ottawa reports that “Chicago woman launches lawsuit against Canadian maker of app-based vibrator”. The woman in question, named only as “N.P.”, has brought a class action suit against Standard Innovation stating she’d never have used the app had she known details of her intimate encounters were being recorded and transmitted to the company.

The suit also states that the user’s email address was sent along with the other data, personally identifying the user.

As I recall, the licensing statement for the product does not explicitly state that information about the device’s usage would be collected and sent to the company’s servers.

Intimate encounters are presumed to be private, so I can understand the sense of embarrassment some people might experience once they realized their sex toy was “tattling” on their activities to the device’s maker.

Certainly having a smarter vibrator has advantages, but everything’s getting smarter these days except human beings. If you need absolute privacy and a machine to satisfy certain needs, then in this case, dumber might be better.

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3 thoughts on “Robot News Roundup

  1. I’m much more concerned about police putting handcuffs on newly killed people than about handcuffs being put on robots (or a robot). I have other concerns where the robot was arrested. And that is with free speech and propaganda and “an eighty-two percent approval rating” based on putting people in prison (for one measure) when they don’t express said “approval.” A real poll (or collecting of opinions) would not be consistent with the way Putin rules.

    The “two breaks for freedom” later quipped about in the article are funny to me.

    As for who should be arrested if there really is any good reason not to allow such a robot in certain situations, I suppose it would be whoever physically deployed the device. Or it could be both the rental company personnel and the person who hired them to do it. Considering what the robot in Dallas was capable of doing, a computer rolling around might reasonably be seen as potentially dangerous. You’re right that it’s not clear what was precisely the supposed problem. Maybe this could have been researched/reported better. Or maybe it couldn’t (literally could not); it happened in Russia, after all. If there was a legitimate concern or law, it’s normal to impound property. But then, maybe what they should have been doing is putting the thing in a bomb container.

    As for the police using their robot in Dallas, I see no problem with what they did. And there was a lot of discussion about how smart the chief had been in making his decision and asking his officers to plan the details. They had identified, by unmistakable observation and interaction, the individual who had shot into the crowd (of police and civilians together) at the peaceful demonstration.

    I maybe heard a question of if using a remote robot was okay or smart once or twice (across days). And I consume a lot of news. I don’t think the thrust was that the police acted inappropriately.

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    • I included the story about the Russian police trying to arrest a robot because I thought it was funny, not as a serious political statement about that country. The whole article is sort of tongue-in-cheek with the exception of the story about a robot disarming a gunman without his awareness. In this case, the technology saves lives, which is a good thing.

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  2. I have more than once incredulously told the story of the year reporters had gone to Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of the massacre and found people all over the place holding up opened umbrellas to block the view and any camera angles on the square itself. Neither the people or the reporters who encountered this were intending to be funny. But it’s absurd to think of even all this time later.

    Sometimes I wonder, though, if maybe there was a cultural thing going on… that it is Chinese custom to hide behind an umbrella in shame when identifying wrongdoing. So, the umbrellas would be good.

    I, meanwhile, am making a serious statement about handcuffs being put on dead men.

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