I hate to say none of the tragedy out of Dallas yesterday surprised me but it did not. Almost none of it. The murders of the police were predictable. The government is out of control. The people, some awake, some asleep, some sleep-walking, don’t have much control themselves. It’s a bad mixture. It could be much worse though it’s bad enough as is.
What did surprise me, slightly, was how the police killed shooter Micah Johnson. There was a long standoff and shootout. Unable to get a clear shot at him as he hid in a parking garage, the police used a robot to get a bomb close to Johnson. They detonated it, killing him and ending the situation. A robot. With a bomb.
This is not the first time American police (locals, not the feds) have bombed civilians. Here’s a video of a 1985 police bomb used in Philadelphia against a “radical” sect of black separatists. That bombing was roundly condemned as overkill – kill it did, eleven people I think.
The Dallas bombing yesterday was, if anything, more proportionate. The Philly bomb ended a days old siege which perhaps could have been waited out. In Dallas the police acted against an active shooter who posed an immediate threat. Their bomb only killed him.
Some are asking, “should the police be allowed to use bombs?” The short, legal answer is “yes”. I reluctantly concur with the expert consensus with qualification. The police, like anyone else, can legally kill anyone who poses an immediate threat of lethal or grievous danger. If they’re going to be killed, then does it matter if it is by bullet or by bomb?
I am not a fan of the modern, militarized police. Regardless of what I think, they are armed with military weapons. I will leave that angle alone for now. At any rate, in the old days, if the police could not handle a situation, they called in the state militia with heavy weapons – like bombs. And, I’m not going into due process issues either. I am assuming, for column’s sake, the justification for lethal force was there.
Another qualification I would add is that a destructive weapon, like a bomb, should only be used as a last resort and only if collateral damage is mitigated. It appears the damage mitigation box can be checked and I don’t have enough information on the last resort. I’ll give that benefit of the doubt to the police here.
Again, out of all of this it was the robot with the bomb that got my attention. The bomb was probably a Claymore mine or other anti-personnel device. In Philly, 1985, they used a powerful incendiary bomb. The robot used yesterday is more of a remote-controlled vehicle; it’s a machine, a tool. In 1985 they used a helicopter, another machine or tool.
The difference, as I see it, is the rapid advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence. Helicopters aren’t getting smarter, robots are.
The Dallas machine was 100% under operator control. However, other government agencies are spending a ton of your money to develop autonomous robots – machines that are programmed to act on their own. Industry is designing robots to control other robots.
Here we delve into science-fiction horror that is rapidly becoming reality. How long until there are autonomous robots with bombs or other weapons? What happens if they adapt to or against their programming and start acting completely on their own? What if they decide we, the humans, are the enemy? With the way technology is changing, we probably don’t have that long before we start getting answers.
I got this fictional Terminator picture from a story about the real thing.
If race relations are bad now, what about when (if, rather, I pray) it’s the human race versus the robots? They’re already taking our jobs. At some point could they see us as obsolete? Adversaries? We just might want to hypothesize these questions and possible answers before the machines do.