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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post

"Like so many classic Western anti-heroes before him, he rolled (literally) into town with a singular goal in mind: cleaning up the streets, which had become a gritty hotbed of harassment, vandalism, break-ins and grift.

The only difference was that he was a slow-moving, 400-pound robot with a penchant for snapping hundreds of photos a minute without people’s permission, and this was San Francisco’s Mission District in 2017.

What could go wrong? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

In the past month, his first on the job, “K-9″ — a 5-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide K5 Autonomous Data Machine that can be rented for $6 an hour from Silicon Valley start-up Knightscope — was battered with barbecue sauce, allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker.

As if those incidents weren’t bad enough, K-9 was also accused of discriminating against homeless people who had taken up refuge on the sidewalks he was assigned to patrol. It was those troubling allegations, which went viral this week, that sparked public outrage and prompted K-9’s employers — the San Francisco chapter of the animal rescue group SPCA — to pull the plug on their newly minted robot security pilot program.

“Effective immediately, the San Francisco SPCA has suspended its security robot pilot program,” Jennifer Scarlett, the organization’s president, wrote in a statement emailed to The Washington Post on Thursday. “We piloted the robot program in an effort to improve the security around our campus and to create a safe atmosphere for staff, volunteers, clients and animals. Clearly, it backfired.”

[Saudi Arabia, which denies women equal rights, makes a robot a citizen]

SPCA officials said the robot was hired to patrol the parking lot and sidewalk outside the animal shelter after the building had been broken into twice and employees had become fed up with harassment and catcalls. The robot, they said, would be able to snap photos, record security footage, and then notify shelter employees or police during an emergency.

The backlash began after an animal shelter spokeswoman, in an interview with the San Francisco Business Times this week, seemed to suggest that the robot was an effective tool for eliminating the homeless encampments outside the SPCA, leading to a sudden reduction in crime. SPCA officials now say they didn’t mean to imply that they wanted to be rid of the homeless and have pointed out that they partner with several local organizations to provide veterinary care for homeless pet owners.

Nevertheless, a public outcry, complete with calls for the robot’s destruction, quickly ensued. A flurry of attention-grabbing headlines implied that the robot was specifically employed to target the homeless.

“Robot wages war on the homeless,” a particularly inflammatory Newsweek headline read."

Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post
Crime-fighting robot retired after launching alleged ‘war on the homeless’ - The Washington Post

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