I am currently writing this from Casco Viejo in Panama City. I’ve written briefly about this area before with some photos. There is an area right next door called Santa Ana that is essentially a no-go area due to crime.
There are at least two policemen at the junction of Santa Ana and Casco Viejo, whose job I presume is to simply tell tourists not to walk down that road.
This made me think.
If you have a few policemen standing on a corner, they essentially represent a crime-free zone. It is difficult to quantify how large this crime-free area is, but it is for sure there. We know that no crimes will be committed within 3 meters of these policemen, and we can expand this safe zone to at least 10 to 20 meters, and perhaps even more.
Why is that?
Well, because of two reasons.
- The police can observe and spot the crime — and criminals typically do not want to be detected.
- Police can also stop the crime by using violence. This can be as simple as tackling the criminal to the ground, to using deadly force and putting an entire magazine into the criminals’ body to stop their nervous system from functioning and causing death.
So this perceived thread of detection and violence is what keeps the criminals that do exist — and I do want to get into the root issues of crime in this essay, so let’s just deal with the current reality that there are some really nasty individuals out there — from committing crime in that particular circle around the policemen.
I have been keeping my eye on robotics scene for several years, and the advancements are obviously accelerating. Here’s a video of thirty years of progress from Boston Dynamics.
And with the parallel advancements of Large Language Models (LLMs) and Vision Models, we can forecast that in the future there will be robots that can understand the world around them and speak with humans.
It’s a relatively small jump to go from that and then arm the robots and turn them into robot police, almost like the Robocop universe!
Putting aside the issue of whether it is desirable to have armed robots, and what the risks that this poses to humans and society as a whole, I think the biggest issue is not going to be the technology. The big issue is going to be how we regulate the technology. For instance if a robot takes a life, who is ultimately responsible for this? Oh is it the company that created the robot, is it a company that purchased a robot and operates it, is it a company that provides the operating system and software or perhaps one of the contractors that had a fault in the vision module that misidentified a piece of plumbing equipment for a gun?
This is going to be a hugely complex area for politicians and policymakers, but it will be a critical thing for them to resolve. if we get this right, the benefits could potentially be huge, because then we can deploy robot police in almost every street and have complete safety, because criminals will have the overhanging threat of identification and violence everywhere.
And so if this does move forwards, then solving crime simply becomes a production problem. how quickly can we churn out armed robot policemen, if a word policeman even makes sense anymore? we should just say, police thing, and deploy these robots everywhere we can, and create these perfect safe stones.
One of the best inventions that humans have created was the idea of centralizing violence with the state. and yes, there’s been some horrific examples of this going wrong, especially in the last 100 years. we can easily think of hitler or stalin or mao. however, even with these millions of people dying at the hands of these misaligned states and leaders, this is still preferable to be alternative that is complete and utter anarchy, where there is small spats of violence because people know that they will get away with it.
Steven pinker did some interesting studies on this with regards to the homicide rate per 100,000 people at different eras. obviously, it’s difficult to get the precise numbers, but it is clear that overall, this has been trending down, and some of the highest rates happened in smaller societies where each village might do a tit-for-tat revenge, while in larger societies, everyone is individually far more safe because people don’t do this due to the presence of a functioning state that has the ability to investigate and bring criminals to justice.