This new tech can stop crimes before they happen, and that's terrifying.

Imagine you're all alone in a low-lit parking lot when a big, white robot rolls up to you and offers its protection.

Congratulations: You just met the Knightscope K5, the latest in pre-crime technology!



Weirder things have happened, right? I mean, not many weirder things, but definitely some weirder things. GIF via Knightscope/YouTube.

It might look like the lovechild of R2-D2 and a Dalek, but the K5 is actually the world's first "autonomous data machine." (At least according to the press materials.)

What this actually means is that it roves around parking lots in Silicon Valley using facial recognition software to identify potential criminals, broadcasting massive amounts of information back to the company's private data center, and generally policing through (admittedly adorable) intimidation.

And what's more, this shiny robot cop can be rented out for as low as $6.25 an hour.


All in a day's work. GIF from "Robocop."

Are you feeling like you're living in the future yet? 'Cause the K5 ain't the only tech that allegedly stops crime before it happens.

Back in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security created the Fast Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST. Originally known as Project Hostile Intent (can't imagine why they changed it?), this data-crunching program uses physiological and behavioral patterns to identify individuals with potential to commit violent crimes.

And in September 2015, Hitachi released its fancy new Predictive Crime Analytics, which uses thousands of different factors from weather patterns to word usage in social media posts to identify when and where the next crime could happen.

"We're trying to provide tools for public safety so that [law enforcement is] armed with more information on who's more likely to commit a crime," explained Darrin Lipscomb, one of the creators of this crime-monitoring technology, in a Fast Company article.

He also said, "A human just can't handle when you get to the tens or hundreds of variables that could impact crime."

Sounds an awful lot like a certain Spielberg action movie starring a pre-couch-jumping Tom Cruise.


Speaking of curious behavioral patterns... GIF from "Minority Report."

So what are we waiting for? Let's use all this awesome new technology to put a stop to crime before it starts!

Except ... it's not "crime" if it hasn't happened, is it? You can't arrest someone for trying every car door in the parking lot, even if you do feel pretty confident that they're looking for an open one so they can search inside for things to steal.

And even then: How can you tell the difference between a thief, a homeless person looking for a place to sleep, or someone who just got confused about which car was theirs?

GIF from "Robocop."

Besides: What if the algorithms used in this pre-crime technology are just as biased as human behavior?

Numbers don't lie. But numbers also exist within a context, which means the bigger picture might not be as black and white as you'd think.

Consider the stop-and-frisk policies that currently exist in cities like New York or the TSA screening process at the airport. Those in favor might argue that if black and Muslim Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes, then it makes sense to treat them with extra caution. Those opposed would call that racial profiling.

As for the supposedly objective predictive robot cops? Based on the data available to them, they'd probably rule in favor of racial profiling.

Author/blogger Cory Doctorow explains this problem pretty succinctly:

"The data used to train the algorithm comes from the outcomes of the biased police activity. If the police are stop-and-frisking brown people, then all the weapons and drugs they find will come from brown people. Feed that to an algorithm and ask it where the police should concentrate their energies, and it will dispatch those cops to the same neighborhoods where they've always focused their energy, but this time with a computer-generated racist facewash that lets them argue that they're free from bias."


See how quickly this spirals downward? GIF from "Robocop."

Pre-crime measures might make us feel safer. But they could lead to some even scarier scenarios.

By trying to stop crimes before they happen, we actually end up causing more crime. Just look at all the wonderful work that law enforcement agencies have already done by inadvertently creating terrorists and freely distributing child pornography.

The threat of surveillance from robots and data analysts might stop a handful of crimes, but it also opens up a bigger can of worms about what, exactly, a crime entails.

Because if you think you have "nothing to hide," well, tell that to the disproportionate number of black people imprisoned for marijuana or any of the men who've been arrested in the last few years for consensual sex with another man. (And remember that not too long ago, interracial sex was illegal, too.)


Do you really want these guys showing up at your house when you're trying to get it on? GIF from "Doctor Who."

Hell, if you've ever faked a sick day or purchased a lobster of a certain size, you've committed a felony.

The truth is, we've all committed crimes. And we've probably done it more often than we realized.

Don't get me wrong. It's certainly exciting to see people use these innovative new technologies to make the world safer. But there are others ways to stop crime before it starts without infringing on our civil rights.

For starters, we can fix the broken laws still on the books and create communities that care instead of cultivating fear. There'd be a lot less crime if we just looked after each other.

More
Amy Johnson

The first day of school can be both exciting and scary at the same time — especially if it's your first day ever, as was the case for a nervous four-year-old in Wisconsin. But with a little help from a kind bus driver, he was able to get over his fear.

Axel was "super excited" waiting for the bus in Augusta with his mom, Amy Johnson, until it came time to actually get on.

"He was all smiles when he saw me around the corner and I started to slow down and that's when you could see his face start to change," his bus driver, Isabel "Izzy" Lane, told WEAU.

The scared boy wouldn't get on the bus without help from his mom, so she picked him up and carried him aboard, trying to give him a pep talk.

"He started to cling to me and I told him, 'Buddy, you got this and will have so much fun!'" Johnson told Fox 7.

Keep Reading Show less
Most Shared
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information

A new Harriet Tubman statue sculpted by Emmy and Academy award-winner Wesley Wofford has been revealed, and its symbolism is moving to say the least.

Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture