The Police Can't Wait to Get Their Hands On Augmented Reality

Now that New York City is under the rule of a socialist dictator, the "stop and frisk" method of policing, in which hundreds of thousands of citizens who brazenly walked the streets while in a state of non-whiteness were subjected to questioning, delay, and some unfriendly touching, has come to an end. But what if the cops didn't even need to stop you to give you a virtual pat down?

Imagine this: You walk by a police officer and notice that he's wearing a pair of odd-looking glasses, which he points in your direction. Almost instantly, a facial recognition program visible in those glasses identifies you, pulls up your file, and informs him that though you have a parking ticket you haven't yet paid, there are no arrest warrants outstanding for you. A combination of infrared and hopefully non-cancer-causing scanning sensors tells him that you've got keys and change in your pockets, but nothing that looks like a gun or a knife, so he lets you pass. That may have all happened without you even noticing.

We've seen these kinds of things in science fiction for a while, but they're getting very close to becoming a reality, like within-the-next decade close. Which is why it isn't too surprising that the New York Police Department is exploring what it can do with Google Glass, to bring augmented reality to the cop on the beat. "We signed up, got a few pairs of the Google glasses, and we're trying them out, seeing if they have any value in investigations, mostly for patrol purposes," said one NYPD official.

There isn't anything to be afraid of—yet. The capabilities of augmented reality for law enforcement are, at the moment, very limited. But they won't be for long. There are no real large leaps in technology necessary to get from where we are now to where the cops would like to go—basically all you need is some steady and inevitable improvements in the sensors, the software they rely on, and the databases that integrate and process the information.

There are a couple of important things to keep in mind as this technology matures. First, law enforcement agencies are going to want them, and bad. Just imagine how much easier it would make their jobs if they could identify every person they come across as either a civilian with a clean record or a potentially dangerous criminal who needs a second look. Second, when privacy advocates raise objections, they're going to make persuasive arguments for why they should be allowed to use the technology. One scenario they like to bring up is a cop chasing a suspect into an abandoned warehouse, whereupon she immediately sees the blueprint of the warehouse to identify possible exits, then switches to infrared to locate the suspect hiding behind a cabinet. Got him! Or, they'll say, what about if they get a call about a suspect wielding a knife in a parking lot, they get there, scan and identify him, and learn his entire history of mental illness; then they can call in their colleagues who are trained to deal with that kind of suspect, instead of shooting him.

There are going to be controversies and lawsuits about the details, sorting out what kinds of sensors cops will be allowed to use and when. But law enforcement is almost certainly going to win the argument, first because people usually opt for safety at the expense of privacy, and second because at least parts of what the law enforcement officials claim will have genuine merit. It really will make some kinds of policing more efficient and effective. It really will catch some criminals. Getting scanned by a cop wearing augmented reality glasses as you walk by him is certainly preferable to getting slammed against a wall and frisked. And by the time we've fully considered whether the privacy invasion is too high a price to pay, it'll be firmly in place and there'll be no going back.

Comments

This is where we need to appreciate David Brin's point in the The Transparent Society. (http://www.davidbrin.com/transparentsociety.html) Of course police want this technology, and they will get it. But so will everyone else. Or, at least, everyone else should get it.

20th century expectations of privacy are gone. I almost said "traditional expectations", but we still have more privacy than our hunter and gatherer foreparents, and probably still will for a long time. But what those small tribes had was reciprocal balance. The clan can watch the leader just as easily as the leader can watch the clan.

It is that balance that we must make sure to preserve. Yes, the police will have the ability to watch us much more closely, but we will also be watching them. And each other. One day, we will all have access to augmented reality and most will use it. This need not be a bad thing.

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