Autonomous vehicles are going to completely revolutionize nearly every industry involving driving. Truckers, taxi and ambulance drivers, food delivery drivers – all of these jobs will soon be obsolete thanks to our new artificially intelligent robotic overlords. Or underlings, depending on which layer of the capitalist pyramid you occupy. One industry soon to be affected by autonomous vehicles which hasn’t gotten much attention yet is law enforcement. Much of law enforcement involves a lot of driving, particularly traffic enforcement. Why can’t these driving tasks be automated? Furthermore, why not eliminate the officer altogether and let the car hand out tickets? That’s exactly what Ford is asking with a new patent application which has just surfaced. Ford submitted the application for an “Autonomous Police Vehicle” capable of carrying out many policing and law enforcement duties on its own. What could go wrong?
Ford’s patent is still up for review and was just published online. The patent describes a basic autonomous vehicle complete with the usual sensors and low-level artificial intelligence, but this particular vehicle is designed to intercept and stop other vehicles. The vehicle could use databases or the internet to determine the speed limit in a given area and use its sensors to identify any vehicles which happen to be speeding. Why is this necessary in a future where cars drive themselves you ask? The patent application states that even in light of recent advances in autonomous vehicles, there is still a need for traffic police due to the fact that most self-driving vehicles can still be overridden by a human driver:
While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time. When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic.
After the vehicle detects traffic violations (or presumably any other offense), it “may further involve the processor remotely executing one more actions with respect to [that] vehicle.” Does this mean robots will soon have the ability and legal permission to pull over and detain humans? Is this really the kind of future we want? Whether we want it or not, it’s coming.