Killer robots will not be rolled out in San Francisco after all – with police performing a U-turn just days after the controversial policy was announced.
The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had mooted the deployment of robots equipped with explosive charges “to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects” when lives were at stake.
But on Tuesday, city supervisors voted to put the brakes on the controversial policy, although the issue will now be sent back to a committee for further discussion and could resurface again.
The board voted last week to allow the use of deadly robots in extreme circumstances, but the move thrust the famously liberal city into the centre of a debate about the future of technology and policing, with some saying arming robots was a step too close to a dystopian science fiction movie.
Though robot technology for policing has become more widely available, departments across the country have rarely used it to confront or kill suspects.
The police force currently has a dozen ground robots, used to assess bombs or provide reconnaissance in low visibility environments.
However, explicit authorisation to use robots as a type of force was required after a new California law went into effect this year requiring police and sheriffs departments to inventory military-grade equipment and seek approval for their use.
Three supervisors who rejected the policy from the beginning joined dozens of protesters outside City Hall to urge the board to change course.
They chanted and held signs reading slogans such as: “We all saw that movie… No Killer Robots.”
Supervisor Dean Preston was among them. He said: “The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: there is no place for killer police robots in our city.
“We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”