The image of Digidog has been circulating the internet for a while now. Initially, people saw it in tech demonstrations, intended to show off how well it could maneuver. As with anything even slightly resembling a living being, people anthropomorphized it. Perhaps most famously in the “what the hell Carl” meme. However whilst some found the robot charming, others were more cynical and had a question. How long before the police or the military start using it against us?
It appears that the cynics were right in this instance. In the wake of calls to defund the police, The NYPD acquired their very own Digidog at a cost of around $US74,500. More recently, the French military began testing the Boston Dynamics robot dog, referred to as Spot.
What does the Digidog do?
Boston Dynamics does not appear to be too keen on adverting the use of the Digidog by the state. On their website, they list the industries the tech would be useful in as constriction, oil and gas, utilities, and mining. They present the robot as something to be used for worksite tasks. Carrying equipment, surveying, reading gauges, etc.
However, in the case of the NYPD, the robot was being used for surveillance. When it first arrived residents of The Bronx reported seeing the robot walking around taking footage. Although Boston Dynamics insist the model cannot be weaponized, critics are skeptical. The fact that the French army has been testing it on combat situations only adds to those concerns.
Even without any weaponization, the Digidog represents a dangerous trend in policing. Civilians were being surveilled by the police without cause and without a clear way to question or raise concerns. Automation obfuscates accountability. When a Tesla hit a pedestrian whilst on autopilot the lawsuit raised serious questions about who is ultimately accountable for the victim’s death. It is also well documented that technology does not escape from the biases of those who create and operate it, especially in policing.
The Digidog does not represent innovation and a move towards less aggressive policing. It is simply a new way to terrorize the communicates already worst hit by the overreach of the police and underfunding of public services. The fact that one of the first areas to see the robot was The Bronx makes that clear.
It becomes more clear every day that the system of policing is fundamentally broken and doesn’t address the root cause of social problems, but instead often aggravates them. Fancy tech will not change that, it will only help the police overreach more efficiently, and with less accountability.