back to article Seeing a robot dog tagging along with NYPD officers after an arrest stuns New Yorkers

Bystanders in New York City were stunned this week when cops left a public housing complex with a handcuffed man and a robot law enforcement dog trotting after them. The four-legged machine – shown below – was built by Boston Dynamics, and has been dispatched to crime scenes across the American metropolis since October, …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Facial Recognition Error

    Demanding that facial recognition tech isn't used until it's perfect is totally reasonable as humans have never mis-identified another human resulting in wrongful arest of conviction.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      Sure, but facial recognition is almost as accurate as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., performing location recognition from your cell phone.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      How qualitatively "badly" can law enforcement trust/abuse an image recognition algorithm?

      In this case a set of matches were provided by a still from a video. The report with the matches included in bold letters at the top

      ```

      This document is not a positive identification, It is an investigative lead only and is not probable cause for arrest.

      ```

      Then ...

      ```

      investigators simply included Mr. Williams’s picture in a “6-pack photo lineup” they created and showed to Ms. Johnston, Shinola’s loss-prevention contractor, and she identified him. (Ms. Johnston declined to comment.)

      ```

      *Note: Ms. Johnston was not a witness to the crime, she only saw the video.*

      Viola! Computer match has now been transformed into a human witness.

      During the initial arrest

      ```

      In Mr. Williams’s recollection, after he held the surveillance video still next to his face, the two detectives leaned back in their chairs and looked at one another. One detective, seeming chagrined, said to his partner: “I guess the computer got it wrong.”

      They turned over a third piece of paper, which was another photo of the man from the Shinola store next to Mr. Williams’s driver’s license. Mr. Williams again pointed out that they were not the same person.

      Mr. Williams asked if he was free to go. “Unfortunately not,” one detective said.

      Mr. Williams was kept in custody until that evening, 30 hours after being arrested, and released on a $1,000 personal bond.

      ```

      The initial result of the judicial process ...

      ```

      Two weeks after his arrest, Mr. Williams took a vacation day to appear in a Wayne County court for an arraignment. When the case was called, the prosecutor moved to dismiss, but “without prejudice,” meaning Mr. Williams could later be charged again.

      Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor, said a second witness had been at the store in 2018 when the shoplifting occurred, but had not been asked to look at a photo lineup. If the individual makes an identification in the future, she said, the office will decide whether to issue charges.

      ```

      At that point it was already 6 months after the crime had been committed - how long a human witnesses memory valid?

      Until finally, after the NYT ran the story "Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm" (from which the above quotes are taken) ...

      ```

      Note: In response to this article, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office said that Robert Julian-Borchak Williams could have the case and his fingerprint data expunged. “We apologize,” the prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, said in a statement, adding, “This does not in any way make up for the hours that Mr. Williams spent in jail.”

      ```

      Your point is taken, and fabrication of evidence, particularly via lineups, has a long history apart from facial recognition. Nevertheless, it is the moral duty of those who create the algorithms to point out their limitations and recognize how they are being abused.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Facial Recognition Error

        > ```

        You do realise this site is El Reg and not StackOverflow?

    3. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      Exactly. I completely fail to see the difference between arresting the wrong bloke 'cos a computer thinks he looks like the perp and arresting the wrong bloke 'cos you or a witness think he looks like the perp.

      Except that some greedy git and his lawyers think they can make a shitload of publicity out of the former, in addition to the usual claim for wrongful arrest.

      1. oiseau Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Facial Recognition Error

        I completely fail to see the difference ...

        Ahh ...

        Don't worry.

        You will see (and feel it) it the day a computer thinks you look like a perp, get arrested and thrown in jail for 30 hours for nothing at all.

        Things look very different when you are the one getting shafted over by a failed system managed by assholes.

        O.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Facial Recognition Error

          Lucky break it was only stealing watches the poor chap was fingered (digited?) for, had the charge been murder the outcome could have been terminal.

        2. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Facial Recognition Error

          If you have a human being witness flipping through a book of mug shots to pick out likely perps they will have a set restricted to likely offenders. People in the area at the time perhaps, car registrations at an intersection nearby for the 10 minutes before and after, people with form for that kind of theft, etc. If you can get an algorithm to scan EVERY mugshot on record, compiled from military records, drivers licenses, unrelated arrests for crimes with other MOs etc and do it in under an hour, then you’re already widening the field to everyone. Traditional policing involves narrowing the field. That is to say the probable cause is inherently based on more than just a photo ID.

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Facial Recognition Error

        @TeeCee: look up "automation bias" sometime.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      How can Williams confront his accuser? That is one of the great(?) things about the Merkin Justice system? No?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Merkin Justice system

        If you can't confront your accuser as it is a robot then you sue the Chief of Police for $1B. His policies are denying your constitutional rights.

        If someone can sue '45 for $1T then what's a billion or two amongst friends eh?

        Mind you, the Merkin Justice system is in pretty bad shape these days. Blatant corruption reigns supreme and then there are all the murders of civilians by gun-happy Police with a policy of shoot, shoot and write a book about it and give two fingers to being made accountable for your actions i.e murdering an unarmed man by kneeling on his neck well beyond the time he stopped breathing.

        1. chivo243 Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Merkin Justice system

          "gun-happy Police with a policy of shoot, shoot"

          Shoot first, ask questions later? Or shoot'em all and let god sort it out???

          Dead is dead... Sad times :-{(

    5. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      It's not that; but until it's way more accurate, it shouldn't be, by itself, sufficient probable cause for arrest.

    6. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Facial Recognition Error

      Demanding that facial recognition tech isn't used until it's perfect is totally reasonable as humans have never mis-identified another human resulting in wrongful arest of conviction.

      "Our current system is badly flawed, so let's also use this other badly-flawed system!" And, hey, this one is faster, so we can get a lot more crap results to justify our dangerous violations of civil rights.

      I see you were able to find a couple dozen more technophiles to buy into your tu quoque, though. Well, critical thinking is hard.

  2. Persona Silver badge

    Peace

    A robot dog is likely to calm the situation. People will look at it and forget for a bit why they were knocking chunks out of each other.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Peace

      That only works for a short time while they are novel. The same was probably true about the first meatbag police dogs, but their appearance sure doesn't calm the situation these days.

      And if you think the end goal of the police isn't to have something that can run faster than any human, has jaws to clamp down on him to prevent escape (and as a bonus, inflict pain so the cops can get their jollies) and can fire rubber bullets (or worse) for crowd control etc. then you aren't paying attention to the militarization of the police in the US.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Peace

        militarization of the police in the US

        What a sad thing. My dad knew lots of cops, I remember one instance of a cop talking a guy out of a situation that would be solved by gunfire these days... I once lost my shit (80s) when a Chicago cop gave me a ticket for "supposedly" running a red light. He smiled, handed me the ticket and said we can finish this in court. These days, I'm sure the outcome would be different, very different...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Peace

      "People will look at it and forget for a bit why they were knocking chunks out of each other."

      The fictional character Modesty Blaise was known to whip off her top to cause a distraction before using her martial skills on the temporarily off-guard opponents.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Meh

    Dogs are smarter than people

    There have been no cases of dogs firing a gun at someone but thinking that they were going to taser them, although police dogs do occasionally bite children.

    1. Flip
      Joke

      Re: Dogs are smarter than people

      That's only because dogs (the warm-blooded kind) haven't been trained to fire a gun!

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Dogs are smarter than people

        My uncle was shot by his dog.

        On one hand he says "my fault for leaving it off-safe" but on the other, he can say "my dog's a better shot than yours!"

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Dogs are smarter than people

          In French the hammer is commonly known as the "chien" which as most you probably know means dog.

          So if you drop the "chien" when pointing the gun at someone, [sidenote : Rule N° 1 never point your gun, even empty, at anyone, always point it in a safe direction ], they could theoretically blame a dog...

          1. Jamesit

            Re: Dogs are smarter than people

            Always treat a gun as loaded, especially when you know it's not.

        2. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: Dogs are smarter than people

          Why was a round in the gun and not on safety if he wasn’t using it?

          1. Mark192 Silver badge

            Re: Dogs are smarter than people

            "Why was a round in the gun and not on safety if he wasn’t using it?"

            It reads like you're trying to say he shouldn't have left the gun like that but don't have the courage to say so.

            He would have already known that he shouldn't do that, even before he got shot!

            1. tip pc Silver badge

              Re: Dogs are smarter than people

              “ It reads like you're trying to say he shouldn't have left the gun like that but don't have the courage to say so.”

              Safety principles of guns should be no rounds in it and safety on when it’s not in use, even when putting it down next to you.

              Hence my statement & yes he shouldn’t have left the gun like that which is a given.

              You don’t put a loaded gun down like that because stupid things can and will happen as evidenced by being shot by the dog.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Dogs are smarter than people

      Don't worry, when Boston Dynamics gets to version 4 or 5 of the robot police dog, it will be equipped with a taser and probably a gun that fires rubber bullets - which purely by chance can easily be retrofit to fire real bullets.

      Since no one will want an AI with that power, there will be a cop munching donuts in a squad car operating the dog by remote control who will hit the "fire gun" button instead of "fire taser".

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Dogs are smarter than people

        As long as DPD don't call it ED209 everything wil be fine.

    3. JohnG

      Re: Dogs are smarter than people

      "There have been no cases of dogs firing a gun at someone but thinking that they were going to taser them..."

      Although, there been several cases of Americans being shot by a dog (usually by their own dog). There was some guy had collected statistics, with a column in hos table "Happened in Florida", because an unusual number of shot-by-dog incidents happened there. I can't find the link now.

    4. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Dogs are smarter than people

      Six people a year are shot to death by dogs in America.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Re: Dogs are smarter than people

        How many dogs are shot to death by people each year ?

        Fair Do's...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dogs are smarter than people

      A police dog was being used to investigate strange noises in someone's garden shed. It managed to get into a nearby neighbour's garden and savaged their cat. The police force later apologised for not offering any veterinary assistance for the cat - which died after a few hours.

      The suspicious noises were the well-known local badger's nocturnal explorations.

      1. yetanotheraoc

        Re: Dogs are smarter than people

        Smart dog going after the cat and not the badger.

  4. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

    In trouble

    That's me buggered. God help those who ask why against authority, as the algorithms are designed to spot descent against the accepted norm. Where's the AI to say the accepted norm is broken.

    But I don't have control of the money so what do I know.

    Pity my surname is not Greensill . No worries, nothing to see here. All cleared by our AI

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    murderbot

    Aah.. an Ethernet port *ponder*, I wonder who will be the first human to be murdered by a hacked police dog. It will probably be an American, or a person in a country with far fewer lawyers where they can roll out this tech amped up to eleven.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: murderbot

      That will only happen after hundreds are murdered by unhacked police/military robot dogs. This device is the police state's wet dream for crowd control once you equip it with some weapons.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: murderbot

        > This device is the police state's wet dream for crowd control

        Definitely. It never has any scruples whatsoever, and unlike any human psychopaths it is always loyal, dedicated, and fairly intelligent. It doesn't require pay, doesn't take vacations, never sleeps, all it asks for is some food electricity. Definitely the perfect soldier.

        Last but not least it is "just a machine", so lacks responsibility for any bad decisions it might take: Just promise to (severely) wipe its memory and it's back in the streets the next day. At worst, promise (or just pretend) to install a software upgrade.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: murderbot

      They remind me too much of Black Mirror's 'Metalhead', which is not by accident I guess.

  6. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Pint

    RoboCopDog

    or RoboDogCop.

    Reg headline writers are slipping or in the re-opened pubs (Icon).

    The most depressing part of the video, is the couple of voices that refer to any robotic device as R2-D2.

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: RoboCopDog

      'R2D2', eh? El Reg had best watch out. The Mouse has been known to sue for less than this.

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: RoboCopDog

        I was thinking more FIDO-209.

  7. Winkypop Silver badge
    Terminator

    Robo Dog PC

    THX-113K9 perhaps

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Robo Dog PC

      Boston Dynomutt.

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Guy Montags worst nightmare...

    Wonder if it was what Ray Bradbury was imagining when he came up with the Mechanical Hound?

    Still, looks more like a remote control drone to me rather than full-on robot.

    1. Lotaresco Silver badge

      Re: Guy Montags worst nightmare...

      "Still, looks more like a remote control drone to me rather than full-on robot."

      They look more like robots when you see one being used in a work environment. They actually do simple[1] decision making, including knowing where to place their feet to climb or descend stairs, stepping over obstacles and performing autonomous missions. They actually make decisions on the best way for them to perform a mission and over-ride the instructions given to them by the operator. Watch Adam Savage of Mythbusters showing off how Spot works and how he works out his route.

      [1] Not that simple in fact. Stuff we do without thinking such as stepping over an obstacle that wasn't there last time we walked on that route, for example.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Guy Montags worst nightmare...

        Not that simple in fact. Stuff we do without thinking such as stepping over an obstacle that wasn't there last time we walked on that route, for example.

        Hell, I routinely screw this one up. Some times I trip over obstacles that are no longer there.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably..

    This is probably just a tactic to prevent the loss of life for many police officers.

    As much as people love to hate the police, they are the ones trying to stop criminals stealing your things, raping your wives, killing your sons, causing you to OD on drugs... So many police officers get killed on an almost daily basis, so it would make sense that they want to send in robots first.

    Bearing in mind, in the UK alone, there were over 30,000 assaults/attacks on police officers, 10,410 of those assaults lead to an injury, some of which lead to death. (according to government statistics. The police also have many ethnic backgrounds, they are black, asian, muslim etc etc.. they are human too)

    I'm not a police or authority loving guy. But I'd really like people to stop over reacting like idiots for every little minor incident.

    Put bluntly, if we didn't have police your life would be very different right now.

    People say we should stop violence and crime. But at the same time the very people who would be stopping that violence and crime they are complaining about and trying to abolish.

    If it wasn't for the police, who exactly would protect you? The cartel? The mafia? The triad? ISIS?

    Bearing in mind, the roots of the mafia date back to a time where there were no police or crime control in Sicily, The mafia sprung up to "protect" the people of Sicily from other criminals. So that's the kind of organisation you can expect really should the police be gone.

    So they have a robot dog.. so what? It's better than yet another police officer having bullets fired at her.

    I'd really love for the police to just say one day "Okay, sure.. We'll stop" - and not patrol or do any of their duties for a whole 72 hours, allowing criminals to do their thing with no punishment from police during or after the event. Perhaps this would show people how much protection they have.

    /end rant

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Probably..

      they are the ones trying to stop criminals stealing your things

      We definitely don't have the same police forces, dear Anonymous Coward. Around here their only concern is turnover: They'd spend long hours in the freezing cold catching cars speeding on a perfectly safe straight line, but call them because somebody is trying to break in, and a patrol car might or might not drive by in the next 72 hours: There is no money in catching burglars, just lots of boring paperwork.

      Me too I'd like to believe in the honest, upright and dedicated police officers who'd sacrifice their life to serve and protect, but, like about Santa, at some point I had to face the harsh facts of life.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Probably..

      "If it wasn't for the police, who exactly would protect you?"

      Me. Of course where I live I don't need a loicense to do that (yet).

    4. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Probably..

      I'd really love for the police to just say one day "Okay, sure.. We'll stop" - and not patrol or do any of their duties for a whole 72 hours, allowing criminals to do their thing with no punishment from police during or after the event. Perhaps this would show people how much protection they have.

      .. that's already the case for a lot of "minor crime" in the UK - i.e. "no punishment from police during or after the event."

      A classic is shed / garage break ins & theft, chance of getting this investigated is very low, and thus chance of crims getting caught even lower still.

      Another "easy ride" for crims is cycle theft, investigation / clear up rate on that is again very, very low.

      But obviously, plenty of police resources for statue protection *

      * Apols to non UK readers, that sentence only makes sense to (some) UK readers

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Probably..

        If you want to read about another category of crime in the UK - crimes against the farming industry, then see:

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-56761638

        dated the 17th of April. The headline victim reported 10 crimes taking place on her farm in 2020. Whether any resulted in a conviction, prosecution, or were even investigated, is not mentioned in the report.

      2. Lotaresco Silver badge

        Re: Probably..

        "I'd really love for the police to just say one day "Okay, sure.. We'll stop" - and not patrol or do any of their duties for a whole 72 hours,"

        The experiment has already been done in the USA with the defund the police movement. It's claimed that violent crime rose sharply in the areas where police patrols were withdrawn.

        1. genghis_uk Silver badge

          Re: Probably..

          Source?

          Not disbelieving but I would like to see the report myself

          1. Lotaresco Silver badge

            Re: Probably..

            "Source?"

            Note that I stated "It is claimed", not "I claim". I suspect you may be knee jerking a little here. The jury is not even convened to fact check the claims. However news reports exist and are distributed across the political spectrum. There's a report in The Telegraph here for example. If you want a more reasoned discussion then the Marshall Project Report has a detailed analysis, this shows a rise in some crimes, finds alternative explanations for some of them, but does have a conclusion that some crimes increased and others are probably not affected by defunding. As they say "Well, it's complicated."

            1. genghis_uk Silver badge

              Re: Probably..

              It was a genuine request, not a dig...

              <quote> The experiment has already been done in the USA with the defund the police movement. It's claimed that violent crime rose sharply in the areas where police patrols were withdrawn. </quote>

              This made it sound like you had knowledge of the experiment and the "It's claimed" bit sounded like there was a conclusion. However, thanks for the links.

              Definitely complicated - although sending heavily armed cops who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later into situation involving mental breakdown/suicide/domestic issues is never going to give the best outcome

        2. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Probably..

          Warren v. District of Columbia

          Don't read it if you don't have a strong stomach.

  10. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Holmes

    Robot dog detective

    I don't have anything sensible to say - I just wanted to use the "no shit" icon because that's a big advantage of a robot dog. ;-)

  11. Dr_N Silver badge
    Terminator

    Agency

    The Spot is actually being controlled by an Haptic Reconn vet in another timeline.

  12. Cragganmore

    Bomb disposal robots...

    There's no philosophical difference between this silicon fido and the tracked 'robotic' bomb disposal units used by various militaries. They have a camera and rifle mounted to kinetically disrupt a suspect device. Perhaps its the sheer anthropomorphising (if that's a word) because its a dog look alike. Or maybe it's because it's so flippin capable, creepy, and connected. OK, I've convinced myself it's nothing like the bomb disposal units!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does your dowg bite?

    No

    Blam blam blam blam

    I thought you said your dowg didn’t bite

    That’s not my dowg....

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Does your dowg bite?

      Upvoted, though ISTR it was more like "derg" than "dowg"...

  14. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    FAIL

    "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

    What norm ?

    I'm guessing the guys (because it was guys, of course) designing that recog "AI" have not yet lived long enough to observe that long, lucious hair is mainly the province of young, beautiful women. As women age, their hair gets shorter, and blonder (to hide the grey hairs). Very few men have long hair, but some do.

    So having short hair has nothing to do with gender, especially nowadays.

    1. DwarfPants
      Paris Hilton

      Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

      Lockdown has made hair long for everyone (usual exceptions apply: bald people (not quite there yet), people with hair trimmers, people with a competent hair dressing person in the household)

      Roll on the mullet removal operation tomorrow, no more hair bands for me.

      Daughter asked, now my hair is longer what am I going to have done? No.2 on the sides and back, shorter on top. I see no reason to change style after 40 years, that way madness lies.

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

      "Very few men have long hair, but some do."

      Especially certain "sub cultures" e.g. the stereotype of long haired male metal fan has a fair element of truth to it

      1. MiguelC Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

        In my youth I had pretty long hair (most of the fun in headbanging would be otherwise lost) and at some point dated a girl who sported really short cut hair.

        Much to our amusement, it confused a lot of people.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

      > Very few men have long hair, but some do.

      (At least in the USA) "real" men used to sport crew cuts in the past. Long-haired men were "hippies" and generally considered queer/outcasts, then at some point the fashion changed, all the tough he-men got long hair, while the crew cuts were adopted by various subcultures...

      I sure hope their AI has a toggle switch to allow for fashion and age: Older man with very short hair and mustache = old mainstream. Younger man with very short hair and mustache = very likely homosexual. In 25 years it will probably be the other way round.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

        Younger man with very short hair and mustache = very likely homosexual

        Based on the appearance of the students in the last couple of college courses I taught, I'd say that's statistically unlikely.

        Of course, much of this thread has been wild, unsupportable generalizations about appearance. What else is new?

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "less accurate when people don’t fit the norm"

      Very few men have long hair

      Clearly you don't live anywhere near the Mountain Fastness. I'd guess around 15%-20% of the adult male population around here has long hair. It's so unremarkable most people don't even notice.

      Worldwide, maybe the proportion is small enough to merit "very few", but I certainly wouldn't want to put money on that.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This never should have happened

    unfortunately, this is already way past the 'should have never happened'. As long as it's 99.9% (or, depending on 'situation'), even 70% effective, it will be used again :(

  16. Blackjack Silver badge

    Even if they may or not catch Corona, I think the police force should go back to using real dogs. This robot dogs cannot detect drugs for example. And if all you want is cameras then a drone that costs a third of what these robo doggos do is more than enough.

  17. FeepingCreature

    I think this is good

    I for one welcome this development.

    Interaction between suspect and police is charged because the suspect may pull out a gun. If the suspect pulls a gun on a robot, who cares? So you can be a lot more relaxed when making an arrest.

    I for one would much rather be woken by a police bot busting in my house to arrest me than an officer. The chance of "accidents" is lower - as is the chance that the robot "forgot" to turn its camera on.

    1. genghis_uk Silver badge

      Re: I think this is good

      Highly unlikely the robot would confuse Gun (heavy, black and worn on the right hip) and Taser (light, bright yellow and worn on the left hip).

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