“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” Alexis de Tocqueville
“Technology on its own does not stop crime: people do.” S.A. Mathieson
(Day 100 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)
“Technology causes problems as well as solves problems. Nobody has figured out a way to ensure that, as of tomorrow, technology won’t create problems. Technology simply means increased power, which is why we have the global problems we face today.“– Jared Diamond
Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable— Joseph Wood Krutch
In this week’s edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” we will look at the rapidly emerging social crisis being faced by the United States, as well as by several other Western nations. It is easy for mainstream media to attempt to convince its readers that the only ones who wrestle with the human cancer of racism, the maladies of social injustice, and the pain of social marginalization are Americans. It is a human condition. Wherever one looks, there is injustice. It is a human dilemma that must be treated as a deadly sickness. It is not just an American problem. It is not just a skin color difference or an education issue. Knowing more about the problem does not make it go away. All of these issues are a result of the condition of the human heart.
There are many solutions emerging that differ from left to right, as well as from liberal to conservative. All are based on the assumption that if we just had a better education, better technology, and better institutions our problems could be solved. Some are proposing that we bring technology to the front lines of these matters, especially when it comes to the matter of law enforcement and social policing. I want to discuss the innovations of surveillance and robotics as solutions to the problem of policing. I then want to discuss the implications with which society will have to live when these solutions are implemented. There will be consequences, some of which will have been anticipated and others that will surprise us completely.
“Necessity is the mother of invention”-Plato. To be certain there is more than meets the eye in the desperate search for a solution to the current state of law enforcement in the USA and in other parts of the world. The coming days will be interesting for sure, as it appears that some advocate, what amounts to little more than anarchy, while others prefer a more Machiavellian approach through the demonstration of force.
Surveillance- Big Brother and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)
I want to begin my discussion by outlining what surveillance is and look at its strengths and weaknesses. To be certain, this will be the first line of defense that current frustrated politicians will seek to implement. It is the cheapest and quickest way for political “apparatchiks” to make the general public feel like something important is being done for their safety. The United States already has over 50,000,000 CCTV cameras in operation across the country. The US has the highest per capita coverage of any country in the world. China and the UK are next. Current data suggests that there are situations where CCTV is effective and other situations where its effectiveness in crime deterrence is questionable.
For the surveillance crime prevention process to succeed, two elements must exist:
- The offender must be aware of the presence of cameras.
- The offender must believe the cameras present enough risk of capture to negate the rewards of the intended crime.
Undoubtedly CCTV evidence is convincing, though CCTV’s ability to reduce overall crime levels through detection (rather than prevention) is less convincing and arguably a less effective way of impacting crime.
A number of other benefits, beyond a reduction in crime, maybe accrued from a CCTV surveillance system, including:
- Reduced fear of crime
- Aid to police investigations
- Provision of medical assistance
- Place management
- Information gathering
- Diffusion of benefits
Diffusion of benefits is an interesting concept and is a lot more powerful deterrent than many might believe. For this discussion, I am describing the presence of a fake camera, which presents the perception that there is an actual camera there, and that it is recording data. It is a cheaper way to demonstrate the possibility to potential criminals that they may be being surveilled at that moment. A great “diffusion of benefits” tool is a $1 “Beware of Dog” sign visually posted on your front and back door, whether you have a dog or not. The potential perpetrator does not know whether you have a dog or not. The mere presence of a dog may be enough to cause some criminals to rethink their home invasion and go elsewhere for their malfeasance.
CCTV is also grounded in situational crime prevention strategy, which argues that opportunities to offend can be reduced by altering a variety of mechanisms such as:
- Increasing the risk of an offender being apprehended
- Increasing the effort to commit the crime
- Decreasing rewards from crime commission
- Reducing provocations that give rise to criminal opportunities (This means that the offender must be aware of the added surveillance for it to achieve its desired effect.)
Further, proponents of public surveillance systems also believe that such systems have the ability to increase perceptions of safety among citizens, as well as to encourage citizens to use public spaces they know are guarded by surveillance. By increasing the number of citizens using public spaces, more individuals can potentially serve as witnesses to crimes, presenting the possibility of greater crime reduction.
As described by Cornish and Clarke (2003), CCTV is a form of “formal surveillance,” meaning that not only does CCTV have the ability to take the place of police or security officers, but CCTV can also enhance the capabilities of officers. The veracity of these claims are still thinly studied but will be the subject of massive studies in the very near future.
Another issue is the detached, passive style of policing that CCTV has encouraged. Jonathan Foreman, a former adviser to New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, stated in a recent issue of the Financial Times that the 1970s saw American forces abandon walking beats for patrolling by car – a similar example of technology providing efficiency, but also the distance between police and public. “The policy proved to be a disaster and has now been abandoned in almost every big American city,” he writes. “In the UK, however, beginning in the 1990s, the Met went in the opposite direction, seizing on closed-circuit television as the primary tool of law enforcement.” This, he argues, has created “a vacuum of authority in public space”.
Finally, there is the message that CCTV sends to the public. Cameras look increasingly like security theatre. “Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.” This is not to be confused with diffusion of benefits. It has to do with the actual feelings one experiences as a result of the security measures that are being provided. For instance, cameras alone – and all too often, they are the only kind of security in an area – cannot stop you from being mugged in the street, or keep your shop from being looted. They might alert the police, who might turn up in a few minutes or might not. Someone might be watching the camera, or might not, or the cameras might be broken.
For the law-abiding public, CCTV with little or no human support suggests the authorities are more interested in watching and keeping score than stopping crime. And for determined or mindless criminals, it is no barrier whatsoever.
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), also called Machine Learning
Robotics and AI are here, and here to stay. It represents a strong economic solution for systemic injustices within the law enforcement community. Many law enforcement organizations have already begun to implement robotic and AI solutions.
Probably the most visible and widely observed program is in Dubai, UAE. Robot police officers are already patrolling malls and tourist attractions in an effort to cut down crime. Members of the public are able to report crimes via a touchpad on the robot officer’s chest and can also pay outstanding fines and access information via the system. The Dubai police force is hoping to replace a quarter of its human cops with droid cops by 2030. A member of the Dubai Police told Reuters that there are distinct conveniences to having non-humans on patrol: “These kinds of robots can work 24/7. They won’t ask you for leave, sick leave, or maternity leave. It can work around the clock.”
In the future, robots are likely to be used as deterrents in large-scale policing operations that cover large areas of cities or towns. It seems unlikely that riots could start in towns that have already been introduced to robotic police officers, and they featured numbers of them out patrolling the streets. These will likely be the types of large-scale policing in which robots will be involved in the near future.
Law enforcement is labor-intensive and very expensive. In Los Angeles city and county, their respective police and sheriff departments have over 10,000 law enforcement officers each (Zahniser, 2013). New York City boasts over 30,000 officers (Ganeva, 2018)! Chicago has over 12,000 police officers (Reyes, 2016). Technology to limit the number of human staff, thus reducing costs cities cannot afford, offers the gateway to move away from being human labor-intensive to using intelligent automation.
Replacing a human police officer with a robotic substitution is no simple task. If the goal is simple automation; police departments can invest in advanced kiosks and software to handle the mundane tasks. Yet the outlook is not about a simple substitution. Reducing labor costs, enhancing productivity, and eliminating errors are some of the goals of replacing a human police officer. The Mean Annual Wage in the US is $62,760.00. The Mean Hourly Wage is $30.00. Currently, there are over 800,000 people serving as law enforcement officers in the US. The cost of maintaining this size of a police force is enormous. Politicians are looking for alternatives. With the current robot police officers costing under $100,000, it is a tempting solution to consider, even with all the unanswered questions. The economics are real.
In considering S.A. Mathieson’s quote above, “Technology on its own does not stop crime: people do,” public officials are faced with a considerable dilemma. How far do we go in augmenting current law enforcement solutions with new virtual, technological ones? Where is the line of definition?
It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel, 1984. Words like doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future.
We are entering into, what to many feels like uncharted waters, but so much of it seems already spelled out by Orwell in 1949. We are losing an ideological battle. It is a battle that is trying to tell us that all that we’ve known has been flawed and that there is a new world ahead of us that celebrates the goodness of humankind. It is a world that will be facilitated, not to be confused with controlled, by a progressive human spirit that simply “knows better.” If we will yield to that progressivistic force, we as humans will Iive in prosperity and peace.
Technology will be the progressives answer to all our problems. They will attempt to yield us to Machine Learning while convincing us that Artificial Intelligence will allow us to overcome our human foibles such as racism, marginalization, religious bigotry, and a penchant for violence. They will totally ignore the reality that all Artificial Intelligence is programming of data collection and processing. As they do, they will simply design algorithms that fit their human narrative, ignoring those that they believe are non-progressive.
Due to the current situations in the Western nations, these technologies will be accelerated in their deployment, bypassing the appropriate beta-testing measures for the sake of expediency. Then we will all learn together the lessons of unvalidated technologies…the hard way.
There are several things that come to my mind as I think about how to navigate the waters of the technological tsunami into which we are all being drawn. The language and science are so sophisticated that we simply cannot stay on top of all the technologies that are emerging today. Here are a few suggestions you should consider as you seek to remain relevant within the marketplace, or your community.
- Surround yourself with people who understand the technology-speak. Know where you can get your practical implementation questions answered. Find people who will give it to you straight.
- Be a consistent reader. It is easy to get caught up in the trap of allowing otters to tell you what is reality, but unless you have a vocabulary to understand reality as it is rolling along, you will have no other option but to take whatever some SME, (subject matter expert) has to say at face value.
- Pay close attention to your local news and politics. It will be there that many of these policy matters will find their roots. I know that the federal government has the big bucks to spend on these issues, but it will be at the local level where many of these technologies are deployed. We will all be much closer to the deployment phase than the federal government and will have a say in how these new technologies will be implemented.
- Before traveling abroad, read ahead about the technologies that are being used to monitor public safety and law enforcement. As surveillance systems become ubiquitous and robotic and AI programs begin to emerge, you will do well to know what kinds of things they are looking for and how to interact with them.
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: [email protected]