Over a hundred robotics researchers from US universities have signed an open letter opposing joint projects with police institutions, citing the racially motivated killings of citizens by police officers in the country as a cause for concern. The researchers recognise a “considerable risk” that the technology they help develop could be misused by police forces. Tom Williams of the Colorado School of Mines emphasised the lack of trust in US police authorities and how the use of robots in targeted killings has further undermined such trust. The potential for an unjustified use of force and police surveillance, particularly against disadvantaged minorities, are cited as risks of collaboration with police institutions.
The workshop paper, written by Williams and Kerstin Haring of the University of Denver, warned that collaboration between researchers and police could be perceived as validation of police activities, further discouraging minority members from engaging in robotics disciplines. They called for consideration of the historical origins of the police force in America as a tool against immigrant workers and slaves, which has shaped its fundamental nature today. The researchers also suggested that funds directed towards the militarisation of the police could be better used for crime prevention and social welfare initiatives.
Williams and Haring urged researchers working in areas that suggest collaboration with law enforcement agencies to consider partnering with other entities, such as civilian rescue workers or social workers, to achieve their research goals. The open letter, titled “No Justice, No Robots,” was presented at the Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) conference as part of the “Inclusive HRI” workshop. It represents a growing movement of concern from academics on the potential misuse of robot technology by police forces.