Staying on the topic of futuristic technology – the US Patent Office has recently published a patent for an autonomous police vehicle.  This patent has been filed by Ford, and these cars could be programmed with machine learning tools – like deep neural networks in order to find good hiding spots to catch traffic violators.  This is good news if you drive the speed limit.  The patent is actually kind of a lofty idea, rather than an actual invention.  If it is possible, it kind of gives us a dystopian vision of the future, that we maybe don’t want to think about.

What would this invention do for policing?  The patent, which was filed in 2016, actually references cameras, road sensors, license plate readers, touch-sensitive panels, speakers, LIDAR, ultrasound sensors and microphones, satellite connectivity and radar detectors.  That’s a lot!  Think of the radar gun, but now this kind of technology would be built into the car itself.

Cop Car

Further, the patent references machine learning and neural networks throughout. AI is both rapidly altering law enforcement and prompting alarms from privacy advocates concerned about a dawning surveillance state. Ford imagines the robocar would connect to “a locally stored record of drivers” or even larger government databases to verify drivers’ licenses. With these powerful recording and storage opportunities, even fleeting interactions with the car could potentially land the public in a database somewhere.

Ford imagines the vehicles could be attached to a local network of surveillance cameras that will send signals to robocars when they record traffic violations. As shown in the patent images, the cameras could be attached to stoplights and stop signs themselves, triggering as soon as a driver, say, runs a red light or changes lanes without signaling.  This is kind of intense.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a hardcore rule follower.  But you’re going to penalize people for forgetting to signal? Yes, I know that it’s a moving violation, but those kinds of laws seem absurd to me.

police car

Not only that, how much money is a police force going to spend on this kind of technology?  And are you going to be able to recoup the cost from a dozen moving violations?  Police already use artificial intelligence to send squad cars out to places where they expect more crime.  This is known as “hot spot policing”.  So this wouldn’t be a stretch, however, I ask the question again – is it worth it?

Further, how would this work when it comes to profiling?  Would it make it worse, or better?  a DOJ report found that local police over-patrolled black neighborhoods in Ferguson, Missouri after the riots in 2015.  Would artificial intelligence make these kinds of scenarios better or worse?

The patent demonstrates a hypothetical situation where the “robocar” has spotted someone speeding.  The car would use wireless communication to contact the driver of the speeding vehicle and pull them over.  The robocar would then establish the identity of the driver.  But the patent isn’t clear on how this would work.  Would it be that simple?  Further, is this even possible?  What kind of tasks would they be able to do?  Would it eliminate the need for certain positions?  I have more questions than I think there are answers, at this point.  Stay tuned though.