The San Francisco branch of the SPCA (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) endured ferocious backlash earlier this week when the public got wind of the deployment of an autonomous security robot to protect its campus. The move was perceived as a dystopic attempt at employing technology to clear the homeless away from the non-profit’s property. The SPCA has now removed the robots from their property and released a statement addressing the issue.
The statement, sent to Ars Technica by Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, the president of San Fransico SPCA, said, “Although we had already limited the use of the robot to our parking lot, we think a more fully informed, consensus-oriented, local approach on the appropriate use of these new devices will benefit everyone—whether it’s on public space or in private parking lots.” The statement went on to say that since the story gained traction online, the SPCA has received hundreds of violent messages threatening the facility and encouraging others to seek retribution. Scarlett also attributes two acts of vandalism to the backlash.
The robots were provided by Knightscope, a Silicon Valley based startup. In a statement to Ars, a spokeswoman for the company stated, “Contrary to sensationalized reports, Knightscope was not brought in to clear the area around the SF SPCA of homeless individuals. Knightscope was deployed, however, to serve and protect the SPCA. The SPCA has the right to protect its property, employees and visitors, and Knightscope is dedicated to helping them achieve this goal.”
This instance is indicative of the new challenges that advancements in artificial intelligence, and technology in general, have already started to bring about. Advancements in technology are sparking heated debate on the balance between privacy and convenience and also what role machines will play in the near future. Keeping these conversations open and civil is vital to the continued growth of technology along with the advancement of humanity.