Pandemic Robots Are Now Patroling Singapore Like A 'Black Mirror' Episode


Laws exist to keep society functioning and moving forward, and you can make the case that during a pandemic, they're more important than ever. In the US, while we've been very heavily advised not to go wandering around and breathing too close to other people, the police have been able to get away with a largely-casual attitude encouraging people to maintain some social distance. Not so in Singapore. Behold.

That's "Spot," a version of the Boston Dynamics "dog" that's out patrolling local parks now. Singapore handled COVID-19 pretty well, but after opening some things back up is experiencing a dreaded second wave, so they've got Spot out there playing recorded messages about social distancing. On the surface, it seems like a decent idea -- the fewer humans that have to be out monitoring the population of parks, the less risk of viral spreading there is.

But watch that video closely and look how afraid everyone except the stupid photographers seems to be. While Spot isn't supposed to be able to recognize faces or actually do anything about the people it "sees" too close together, nobody seems to want to take that risk.

This is in large part because Singaporeans know that there are often seriously undue consequences for even minor crimes in their country. Rarely, if ever, does the punishment fit the crime. This is a country that laid down a ban on chewing gum (exceptions for "medical gum" were eventually made), still uses caning as punishment, and where drug offenses can get you hanged -- yeah, the kind of execution you thought retired alongside actual Westerns.

So if a strange robot patrolling parks is what it takes to keep people safe over there, well, it looks like it's doing its job. But the reason it's so effective is that Singapore has always treated crime harsher than a lot of other places. There's no flirting your way out of a ticket under normal circumstances in Singapore, and it'd look really silly to try that with a four-legged danger bot. So while the rest of the world gets one sci-fi dystopia, citizens of Singapore have gotten a Choose Your Own Adventure option.

Top Image: Sgt. Eric Keenan/United States Marines

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