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San Francisco Has Reversed Its Killer Robot Plan

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A protest against killer robots outside San Francisco City Hall on Dec. 5.

Said Peter Asaro, an associate professor at The New School in New York who researches the automation of policing, “There are a whole lot of reasons why it’s a bad idea to arm robots.”

Credit: Jeff Chiu/Getty Images

A week is a long time in politics—particularly when considering whether it's okay to grant robots the right to kill humans on the streets of San Francisco.

In late November, the city's board of supervisors gave local police the right to kill a criminal suspect using a tele-operated robot, should they believe that not acting would endanger members of the public or the police. The justification used for the so-called "killer robots plan" is that it would prevent atrocities like the 2017 Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas, which killed 60 victims and injured more than 860 more, from happening in San Francisco.

Yet little more than a week on, those same legislators have rolled back their decision, sending back the plans to a committee for further review.

The reversal is in part thanks to the huge public outcry and lobbying that resulted from the initial approval. Concerns were raised that removing humans from key matters relating to life and death was a step too far. On December 5, a protest took place outside San Francisco City Hall, while at least one supervisor who initially approved the decision later said they regretted their choice.

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