Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Robocop’s Lament

The sad but true story of how traffic robots embody non-human law enforcement’s turn for the worse.

You saw the trilogy a few decades ago. You know, the one with that futuristic tin can of a humanoid with the slitted red visor coming down over his eyes and the stony jawbone that never so much as hinted at a smile. He was Robocop, and he had the circuitry in all the right places. He fought crime without ever losing his stainless steel glint, and I think he even made it through three movies before being relegated to the scrap heap, retiring on an island somewhere with the likes of the Terminator and the washed-up mechas from the movie AI.

He might be gone, along with most everything else that was in style back in the late 80s and early 90s, but I assure you, Robocop is turning over in his rusty grave as we speak.

Although I have to confess that I’ve never actually seen any of his movies, Robocop doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would hide out in an alley and trip you when you walk by. He seems like the kind of robot that would man up, stopping you as you commit the crime and confronting you with an arm cannon and flint-like jaw that says ‘I dare you’ even without showing any hint of expression.

Sadly, Robocop’s descendants have brought shame upon his name and upon the legacy of all metalhead crime fighters. They have abandoned all honor, perfecting the art of ambush like it’s some sort of adaptive survival method. But in fact, humans have largely gotten over their fear that robots are going to take over the world, and robot/human relations are the best they’ve ever been. There are now soccer-playing robots, industrial robots, even robot pharmacists making appearances at Atlanta hospitals. Humans are turning to robots like never before, even to vacuum homes and clean floors. We can only wonder how the biggest abomination of all—the Traffic Cop Robot—can come from the same evolutionary line as those that have proved so useful.

Traffic Cop Robots are the black sheep, the loose screws, the stray wires of the robot world, and they’re taking their frustration out on Arizona drivers. They’re Maricopa County’s invisible mafia. Before you even know what hit you, their photographic, scientific, motion sensor evidence has you going 41 in a 30, no sympathetic policeman to cry to, and a $162 fine you can’t defend in court because you’re almost 2,000 miles away. A slick scheme to be sure, especially when they target honeymooners who are on their way to the airport to leave their sorry state! (How do I know? Because to rub it in, they even recorded the exact time of the “offense” and showed it to me on the statement they mailed to me more than a month later).

For shame, for shame. What would the valiant Robocop say to such underhanded law enforcement tactics?

Note: For clarity’s sake, I should say that this is NOT the simple case of a red light enforcement camera. These robots clock your speed, snap a photo of your tag and get your mugshot all at the same time. I wish I could show you the picture; you can clearly see that it’s me. Begs the question: If I’m going so fast, how do you have time to get such a clear shot of my face?

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