Looking back, one of the strangest experiences of my childhood was being taken by my dad to see Robocop in the theater on opening night. At the time I thought this was awesome; as an adult I wonder why anyone in their right mind would take a 9 year old child to see that movie. This is a movie that had to be re-cut several times and have several scenes of humor* added to get down to an R rating from NC-17. The movie includes, off the top of my head, a rape scene, a guy snorting coke off a prostitute's boobs, a man who explodes when hit by a speeding van, and about 700 grisly, dismembering deaths by firearm. When it comes to entertainment (and parenting, I suppose) my dad is just kind of a big kid, so I doubt he thought anything of it beyond "This is awesome!"
In hindsight, though, I'm glad I saw it when it came out. Being impressionable and imaginative, I couldn't stop wondering if the future was really going to be like that. For a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi movie, it turned out to predict a remarkably accurate vision of the future. That it was set in Detroit now looks like a stroke of brilliance, and that city's troubles have led to a revival of interest in the film (not to mention the obligatory, shitty remake). Despite being a patently silly film, it was also prescient in some ways.The basic functions of local government along with huge portions of its infrastructure are being sold off to private corporations. Violence and crime are rampant in some of the more sordid Rust Belt has-been cities. It wasn't a completely accurate vision, though. We don't have robot-police patrolling the cities.
So here's the thing, and bear with me: Should we? Is this an idea whose time has come?
Recent events have cast in high relief the serious problems with law enforcement in this country. Since our social betters are constantly trying to replace the rest of us with technology – robots replacing factory workers, voice recognition software replacing the secretary, video screens replacing teachers – why not consider automating the police? Sure, they would make tons of mistakes, poorly investigate a lot of crimes, and kill innocent civilians more than a few times. It would hardly take any getting used to at all, in other words.
You think this is half-assed satire or sarcasm. But think about it: who would do a better job of taking a statement from a possible rape victim, a machine following a programmed script or a 55 year old guy who knows that all Bitches secretly Want It? And if we're going to live with cops using wildly excessive force, we should at least have "cops" who dole it out equally to all of us rather than treating certain groups (rich people, white people, rich white people) with kid gloves while brutalizing others.
This is a workable idea. It is so not because the technology of robotics and artificial intelligence are so advanced that we are close to creating perfect human analogues. It is workable because the police are so completely out of control right now that I can scarcely imagine an alternative that could be less effective at Serving and Protecting the public or following the law in their efforts to enforce it.
(*True story: Among the scenes added were the fake product commercials, the "I'd Buy That for a Dollar!" guy, and the person yelling "Someone call a paramedic!" after ED-209 malfunctions and shoots that guy about 100 times. The explicit purpose of these additions was to lighten the tone of the film and take the edge off of the grisly violence long enough to get it down to an R rating.)