Your Dystopian Technology Update: Skynet In Cute R2-D2 Dress

I’m assuming everyone recognizes my sci-fi reference in the post title. But, if not, start here.

k5The New York Times article claims that the robot resembles R2-D2, but I think adding a toilet plunger would make it look like a much more ominous Dalek (which, yes, I know are not technically robots).

A company in California has developed a mobile robot, known as the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, as a safety and security tool for corporations, as well as for schools and neighborhoods.

A great deal of the story focuses on Keynesian fallacies. The K5 ADM will allegedly cost only $6.25 an hour. But the assumption here is that wealth comes from minimum wage laws rather than efficient productivity. If we are not going to claim that the tailors were doing good to smash the first sewing machines then we have to acknowledge that cost-effective labor saving devices make society better off, even if there are disruptions in how people are used to working for a living.

(And, by the way, McDonald’s already has its answer to minimum wage laws. The more governments raise it, the faster they will automate.)

When one refuses to trust wages and prices to develop freely, and insists on interfering with them, then all labor-saving devices become threats. Of course, it is also likely that our low-interest environment makes it easier to automate than it would be in a free society unhampered by a central bank constantly “stimulating” the economy.

So, putting aside the New York Times’ paranoia about wages, let’s consider real reasons for fear.

“We founded Knightscope after what happened at Sandy Hook,” said William Santana Li, a co-founder of that technology company, now based in Sunnyvale, Calif. “You are never going to have an armed officer in every school.”

The first thought that pops into my head is that Li expects to create an armed version of the K5. I have a problem with that!

The other possibility is that he thinks that people will settle for his robot and think it will give them some kind of advantage. If governments purchases a bunch of these it will be like the purchase of those nudie scanners after the underwear bomber despite the fact that the scanners would not have detected the explosive. It would be just a blind response that doesn’t really deal with the problem. 911 was called quite quickly at Sandy Hook. It is hard to see how a robot would help. Furthermore, the specks don’t tell us the robot is bulletproof, so it doesn’t seem likely that it will provide any data that could help police in the case of a school shooting.

The second reason for fear can be found in this video of the K5 at about 40 seconds in:

The K5 is not yet equipped with facial recognition software, but that is planned. Notice it shows a public place in which the robot is scanning and approving the face of every single person who walks by. That may show a private mall but there is no reason why cities could not deploy these to patrol the streets. K5 is basically a ground version of aerial drones.

I’m not ok with being taxed to support an organization that is purchasing automated systems to spy on me. This has dystopia written all over it.