In Defense of Spot

Evan Atlas
8 min readMay 31, 2021

I recently read a New York Times article on the NYPD’s use of Spot, the robot dog built by Boston Dynamics. It’s a subject I’ve given a bit of thought in the last few years. It’s part of a broad acceleration towards an economy in which robots, artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be just as important as human intelligence. I also see this specific application of robotics as an opportunity to synthesize some the world’s disparate views on justice, police accountability, and systemic racism.

The NYT article highlights the “dystopian” aesthetic of a robot police force with a quote from City Councilman Ben Kallos, who draws a comparison to an episode of Black Mirror. There is a robotic dog in the episode which is very Spot-like, except that it acts completely independently, and is portrayed solely as a human-hunting weapon. Beyond that, there is little to say. The article could have easily invoked RoboCop, but its cultural ubiquity already makes it a touchstone in any conversation about police and robotics. Chappie is too cute, and cybernetic Matt Damon too much of a man-of-the-people, to evoke the kind of terror needed to nudge people towards the view that NYPD has Terminator-envy. But this sensationalized view of robotics limits our ability to make real progress.

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Evan Atlas

Hey, I'm Evan! I'm a writer and philosopher. My work is aimed at confronting the challenges of our metacrisis, and building a theory of metarevolution.