Digidogs Out

Americans have a lot of negative feelings about robots, even though they keep us from having to work in dangerous situations, keep the cost of consumer goods low, and provide labor-saving services.

Still, we worry that robot overlords are coming to take our jobs, and we get creeped out by robots. Case in point? New York City’s digidogs. Yes, you probably recognize our old friend Spot in the photo above. We admit that lots of people find Spot a little bit creepy. But this version of Spot is the NYC’s Digidog, an automated helper for the city’s police force.

They were scheduled to be tested until August. Its goal was to go into places too dangerous for human police officers, to allow surveillance from a position of safety. It was intended to save lives.

Instead, Digidog is being retired.

What did Digidog do wrong?

That’s not completely clear. Maybe Digidog was just send the wrong message. While the robot was able to get into buildings and send out information that helped police officers make good decisions about their next actions, it also bothered people to have such a fancy machine running around the community watching people.

“Please ask yourself: When was the last time you saw next-generation, world-class technology for education, health care, housing, etc. consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?” Tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Other observers worry that Digidog gives police departments the power to sneak up on people and watch them in inappropriate ways, although the police department points out that Digidog is noisy and has flashing lights.

Complaints about Digidog have been fairly abstract. So far the robot has taken food to people being held hostage, provided information about a home invasion, and featured in a viral video that spurred complaints about a lack of transparency.

AOC’s objection that the money could have been better used — though Spot is not an especially expensive robot and it seems to be doing a good job — seems to be the main concern. Aside from the claim that the robot is scary and could be aggressive.

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