Massachusetts could potentially become the first state in the U.S. to regulate the use of weapons attached to robots. State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and Senator Michael Moore have proposed a bill on Beacon Hill that seeks to ban the manufacture, sale, or operation of robots or drones with attached weapons. The bill would also prohibit the use of robots to threaten, harass, or physically restrain individuals.
Under this legislation, the ban on robots with attached weapons would not apply to the U.S. military, defense contractors, or law enforcement bomb squads. However, private companies developing anti-weaponization technology, such as robots that automatically shut down when gunfire is detected, could request case-by-case waivers from the Attorney General.
The proposed bill follows a plea from robot developers, including Boston Dynamics, for policymakers to outlaw weapons attached to autonomous or remotely controlled devices. Although companies like Boston Dynamics do not sell robots with attached weapons, there have been instances of individuals modifying devices, such as Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot, with unauthorized attached guns.
The bill has garnered support from industry organizations like MassRobotics and the ACLU of Massachusetts. It also includes provisions to regulate law enforcement agencies’ use of robots. Police would not be allowed to use a robot to enter a private dwelling without a warrant, and they would need to disclose information about their use of advanced robotics under public records requests.
Ethicists and scholars specializing in artificial intelligence and robotics have expressed their support for the proposed legislation. They believe that outlawing the attachment of weapons to drones and robots is a necessary step to ensure public safety, particularly considering the potential for bias and algorithmic issues in law enforcement.
The next step for the bill is to be assigned to relevant legislative committees, which may hold hearings later this year or in 2024. Its proponents are hopeful that it will gain traction and be passed into law.
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– Source definitions: U.S. military, defense contractors, law enforcement bomb squads, anti-weaponization technology, autonomous, remotely controlled devices, MassRobotics, ACLU of Massachusetts, warrants, public records requests, bias, algorithmic issues