Watch out, New Yorkers — the NYPD's new surveillance bot has officially arrived at a subway platform near you.
On Friday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams finally deployed "K5," the NYPD's latest foray into robot-assisted surveillance technology, at the highly-trafficked 42nd Street subway station in Times Square, The New York Times reported last week.
Described by its maker, a Silicon Valley-based venture called Knightscope, as a "fully autonomous outdoor security robot," the bot — which bears an eerie resemblance to the nefarious Daleks of the "Doctor Who" franchise — is being hailed by officials as a cost-effective crime deterrent. At a relatively diminutive height of 5'3 and a top rolling speed of 3 miles per hour, this armless egg-on-wheels isn't exactly going to chase any suspects down. But as the pro-K5 logic goes, maybe it could dissuade any would-be criminals from committing crimes in the first place.
"Public safety and justice are the prerequisites to more prosperity, particularly in our subway system," Adams declared at a Friday press conference, according to the NYT. "When people feel unsafe to use our trains and buses, it impacts our economic stability as well."
— katie honan (@katie_honan) September 22, 2023
While Adams' outlook on surveillance technology is as rose-colored as ever, privacy activists are once again sounding alarm bells. After all, the camera-strapped K5's bot's entire job is to record the comings and goings of one of New York's busiest subway stations, and Mayor Adams' particular fondness for Clearview AI — the secretive, AI-powered facial recognition app that was created by scraping Facebook for billions of photos without user consent and has since been used to wrongfully arrest innocent people for crimes they didn't commit — is certainly something to keep in mind when considering the potential impacts of a machine like this.
Sure, it would be nice, in theory, if all this bot did was stop petty criminals on the subway tracks, but surveillance technology in context is much more complicated — not to mention dystopian — than that idealistic vision. And as Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the anti-surveillance nonprofit Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told the NYT, there are already a lot of cameras in and around K5's new stomping grounds.
"If the mayor thinks there aren’t enough cameras in Times Square," said Cahn, "then he's more out of touch than I realized."
In any case, if you catch the K5 yelling "exterminate," we might suggest you run, and don't walk, away.
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