Episode 100 - Cops, Cameras, Guns, Poop!
Published August 28, 2014
SPECIAL GUEST: Dwight Calbert (of Aphelion Consulting) - With several recent incidents between police and civilians in the news (including Ferguson), the relationship between law enforcement and citizens is changing. What can future technologies do to help restore the public trust in "Protect and Serve"? What process changes and new ideas can we bring to the idea of law enforcement that can help us all to move forward, in keeping with our democratic principles? Our guest takes us on a futurist tour into that scenario. If you care about the future of law enforcement, Robocop is here for you. Recorded 8/24/2014.
You can download the episode here.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Aphelion Consulting home page
Dwight Calbert on Twitter
Brandon Bradley found guilty of murder of Brevard Deputy Barbara Pill, by Greg Pallone and Jerry Hume (News13, 4/2/2014)
Wikipedia on Shooting Of Michael Brown
Wikipedia on 2014 Ferguson Unrest
Why and How We Must Protect the Right to Film Cops in Ferguson, by Josh Levy (Wired, 8/22/2014)
Following Ferguson protests, Obama orders review of programs that arm police with military gear, by Dante D'Orazio (The Verge, 8/23/2014)
The Economics Of Police Militarism, by Sarah Stillman (New Yorker, 8/15/2014)
Will Forcing Cops to Wear Body Cameras Quell Brutality?, by Alyssa Figueroa (Alternet, 8/22/2014)
Putting Body Cameras On Cops Won't Fix Misconduct, But It's A Good Start, by Tim Cushing (TechDirt, 8/25/2014)
Senator wants all US cops to wear video cameras, by David Kravets (Ars Technica, 8/27/2014)
Federal Law Ordering US Attorney General To Gather Data On Police Excessive Force Has Been Ignored For 20 Years, by Tim Cushing (TechDirt, 8/25/2014)
In response to Ferguson, these kids built an app to rate the police, by German Lopez (Vox, 8/18/2014)
Episode 9 - Who Watches The Watchers, our very first episode on Police and accountability
Episode 52 - RebootCop, our review of the new Robocop and a look at the original film
Episode 84 - Record The Police, we talk about cameras on Police
Mike Johnston: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode 100. On the show, we take a look at how society is changing. Everything from pop cultures to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in under 30 minutes, every Tuesday and Thursday. I'm Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I'm Matt Bolton.
MJ: And today we have joining us Dwight Calbert of Aphelion Consulting. Dwight, thanks for joining us.
Dwight Calbert: Hey, thanks for having me.
MJ: I guess to start off, could you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and what Aphelion Consulting does?
DC: Traditional management consulting firm; we're stationed here in Orlando, Florida - well, I shouldn't say ‘Here,’ but in Orlando, Florida. We have aspirations of going global. We have the opportunity to open up an office in Nairobi, Kenya in early 2015. Management consulting is basically just like you see on television. There's a show out there now that I won't call their name out, I don't want to give them any free promotion because they make their field look so bad, with Don Cheadle as the lead character there. But it's a funny show. What we try to do is help our clients just make better decisions, help them be more efficient in their operations and hopefully, at the end of the day, help them position themselves to do good in the world.
MJ: Well, and how you and I linked up on Twitter - well, really you linked up to our show's twitter account - part of your background on Twitter that appealed to me was you described yourself as a ‘Futurist.’ Could you elaborate on why you picked that as a part of your description?
DC: Absolutely. When you're in management consulting, especially if you specialize in strategy, one of the perspectives you need to give a client is what is happening in the future and the future is very important for a strategist because strategists need to be a futurist because we need to see, predict and really plan ahead. If we can't take a broad, visionary, hopefully world-changing approach to problem solving, I don't think we do clients any good. And that world-changing approach to problem solving, it must involve vision, creativity, objective analysis and at its core it's an entrepreneurial spirit for charging ahead to create a world that's better and, in doing so, solving some of the most challenging and most impactful problems.
MJ: Fantastic, that's it. Really all we're about on the show is look ahead at society and the way it's changing and kind of hoping to get out ahead of it a little. So, I guess for today's episode - in our Twitter exchange - we talked a little bit about RoboCop. Matt and I actually reviewed the new RoboCop in our episode 52 and I think there's some interesting ideas in there. What did you have in mind for us to talk about around those technologies?
DC: Well, it's not necessarily from my perspective - at least talking around the technologies. We can do that, but as a ‘Futurist’ who is a strategy consultant, I would like to talk more so about the process of how you think about challenges or problems that need to be solved. I'm hoping that listeners can benefit from that because we're all futurists, if you think about it. We all must see around a corner and see if there is a guy there with a baseball bat who's going to hit us upside our head, and know not to go around that corner. So the process I think is intriguing because the process leads to the product, if that makes sense.
MB: Yeah, absolutely.
DC: I think you gentlemen probably share this sentiment with me: my heart and condolences go out to all the families involved in the Ferguson community and I know they haven't started but this may be a conversation where we start looking forward toward long term solutions and I believe that humanity probably is most resilient when we recommit ourselves to progress during our most difficult times. If we can use the concept of maybe RoboCop and have the background or the drumbeat of what's happening in Ferguson, maybe we can ask different questions that probably should be asked. Number one is around the sanctity of life because police officers put their lives on the line every day. You look at Barbara Pill in Florida who lost her life in the line of duty because of a senseless act of crime, and you look at the situation in Ferguson, where the officer - right or wrong, I'm not being judgemental here - had situational awareness and said ‘This is the only decision that I have to me’ and someone lost their life. So, the concept of RoboCop and the technologies and the process of thinking about that should start with ‘Can we do better?’ and ‘What does better look like?’ If we're going to, hopefully, guard the sanctity and spirit of human life and do so in a fashion that is consistent with our Democratic principles here in America, I think we should ask certain questions.
MJ: I think one of the things that we've certainly talked about on the show before, starting way back in episode 9 and we did it a bit on episode 84 as well, is actually having the cops with live recorders, the online video all the time. I know a lot of police groups do not like that idea but it seems like you're on your best behavior in that role if you know you're on video. Matt and I have talked a little bit about - I think that also protects the police because it shows the whole record, whereas nowadays with everybody having cell phones, you're going to be recorded at some point. Do you really want just the escalation of force part recorded or all of the lead-up to that. It just seems like that would make a good documentary evidence; with the idea of preserving the chain of evidence of what happened, video would be a lot more reliable than eyewitnesses, and maybe that's a sort of RoboCop technology that would help us.
MB: You know what's funny too is when you look at it, a lot of the people - I've watched a lot of these interviews in Ferguson and stuff with this whole thing and you look at the people who are the demonstrators, you look at the police, you look at the politicians, Republicans, Democrats - everybody agrees that the cameras would have resolved this issue. The problem is the cops are the only ones who don't want this technology but literally everybody else does and I think at some point we just have to say ‘You know what, we don't really care if you want it or not. You work for the public.’ It would speed up court trials by a ton. It would take all the guesswork out of ‘Okay, who was wrong and who was right in this?’ If a jury can sit and watch the entire incident from beginning to end and see exactly what the cops saw, that would really take out - then you would know, ‘Okay, you know what, the cop needed to use deadly force’ or ‘You know what, there was no imminent danger to the police officer, he did not need to use deadly force.’ To me, it takes all of that guesswork. It would shorten court trials, it would save a lot of money in the long run and you're making both sides of the debate happy because then there's no argument anymore.
DC: That's interesting. I would use that rich conversation that we just had and those comments that you guys just had and, in a futurist type setting with a client, we would build scenarios and we would ask questions and we would use all the tools in our toolkit about ‘How do we get to better?’ One of the things I probably should have done at the beginning when you asked me about futurists - to really define what a futurist is, in my humble opinion, this is just my opinion and it may not be an accurate description of a futurist, but I think the ultimate futurist endeavor is the survival of our species. I heard recently that there's this comet that's going to impact the Earth in 2880. We are compelled and morally obligated to find a solution to that problem and we've got a lot of time to do so, thankfully. But to me, that's the ultimate definition of a futurist, is to endeavor to really figure out how we can progress - not only find a survival but how do we progress? If there's a measure of utility that a futurist should live by, it is simply progress with humanity. Now, I say that to go back to the conversation that we're having and one of the questions that I would throw out in a facilitation session is ‘Why do we use bullets in law enforcement? Why do we have this determination or this commitment to destroy life instead of the act from occurring?’ Now, stopping the act from occurring while the incident is happening is different than stopping the act from happening before the incident happens, so those two different threads that you would go down. Can we disable, if I can use that term, or impair the suspect, because we're all innocent until proven guilty - can we impair a suspect who isn't cooperating? Why do we have to kill life? There's tools and technologies that are emerging and they're cost of development is becoming cheaper and cheaper thanks to a lot of things that are happening in the world today, that I think law enforcement will have in their repertoire and their toolkit. Why can't we use those and still be effective? That would be one of the first questions I would ask. The second part of that is how do we be more preventive? Forget RoboCop. I want RoboUndercoverCop. How can I get technology into the hands of RoboUndercoverCop, where we can get guys in the community with maybe, I don't know, neural implants or something like that, that can do a lot of the undercover work that can stop crime from happening in drug cartels even before they do - or terrorist activities. So those are two of the questions and the way I would want people to think about it and at the core of that futurist-type questioning, even before you start thinking about scenarios, is challenging today's orthodoxy, because we can't get to the future if we don't challenge today's orthodoxy.
MJ: That brings up an interesting point as far as non-lethal weapons - cops obviously have tasers and one of the articles I saw around this debate that's come up since Ferguson is it seems like cops go for the gun first, not that tasers are a perfect technology, because I have read some stuff too as far as them having fatal consequences as well. But it does seem like it's more of an immobilization device than a handgun would be, that might be sort of an interim step along the route to get to whatever other technologies that are coming down the pipe.
DC: Yeah, I totally agree. One of the things you can do and one of the things we would help clients with or the way I think anyone can think about this is we all understand Moore's Law and we all understand technology S curves; one of the areas that I just devour, anytime I see a scientific journal come out, I'm in the scientific journals or the academic journals and what you can do is get these little nuggets of information on where certain technologies are going. You go to places like MIT, for example - there's just a wealth of information at MIT because of their specialty, as far as the trajectory of future technologies. I don't mean to give them a plug or anything like that on your show but they have the EmTech Conference, the Emerging Technology Conference, that's coming up in I think the last week of September and one of the topics is machines like us. So they're going to be talking at a much more scientific and technical level about the technologies that go into this than we probably have time for today but that's a good area to look for if you want to just discover the trajectory of different technologies. So you can go somewhere and look at tasers - what would tasers look like in 2020? There's an article or there's some information in some scientific journal that gets you there. Once you do that, you can just use technology S curves and Moore's Law and start developing a path of what is possible next? What is possible within 5 years? In 7 years? I think futurists or foresight practitioners can use that type of tool and then you can take that to a police force or to the military and say ‘Hey, this is what you're going to have available for you in 5 years. Does this change your operating procedures?’
MB: That's a really good point. I've never really thought about it that way but it is an excellent point and I think police departments definitely need to be looking at what's coming down the pipe with what kind of technology they can use. I think the majority of police do respond to a situation where, ‘Hey, pulling out the gun is the absolute last thing I want to do’ but there are obviously police officers who don't follow that rule and sometimes they have to or whatever but hopefully - I'm hoping that's the case but obviously you read all these stories on the news about how it's not the case but you obviously don't read the opposite side about when they never pull the gun and you don't read in the newspaper about how somebody was tasered and nothing else happened.
DC: Right, and should that person be considered a hero when they use a different level of discretion. I guarantee you - and maybe I shouldn't guarantee because I am being a predictive futurist when I feel very strongly that if we had the statistics of great officers in the line of duty who use discretion, who could have taken a life, versus making the ultimate decision, I think it would probably be 10 to 1 of those who decided ‘No, not today. I'm better than that today.’ No criticism - that may or may not have happened in Ferguson. I just think that there's a different model and by definition, if you're a futurist or a person who wants the species to be better and you strive for progress for humanity, those are the types of questions you should have.
MJ: Dwight, you mentioned the idea of the undercover cops and crime prevention - in terms of some of the things that have come out around the NSA and Snowden and things like that, how do you think that impacts the way that people conduct themselves? Because some of the things that I've read, and certainly the concern that I've had about those things going on, some of the folks that I know have been ‘Well, I don't have anything to hide.’ I just think there is a self-censorship effect when everything you do is being spied on. As much as it might be good to prevent crime, I think those technologies also can prevent society from moving forward because really, if you think about it, at one point in our history it was a crime to free a slave or it was a crime to make alcohol and all these things that now we take for granted, and if you literally can't even think those or can't advocate for those kinds of things, I think it puts a chill into society. So what would you say about those kinds of technological or process developments in society that are almost restricting society and removing freedom?
DC: I'm going to focus on the process and maybe answer your question at the end of focusing on the process and go back to a point that was made previously as well. I think if I was in a session, it is incumbent upon me as a futurist not necessarily to be an optimist but to look at all the opportunities for progress and we cannot have this conversation without talking about our principles and what those principles are and what we're striving for. Privacy is a principle that is inherently at the center and core of our DNA as a Democracy and in America and I'm a very proud African American, very proud black American or whatever you want to call me. I think those principles should be in any conversation that a practitioner like myself has. If I can go back to these police forces and let's say they hire me to be their resident futurist. Well, one of the first questions that we're going to have is about principles before we even start talking about technology because principles trump situation. If we can go back to technology from the 1960's, the principle is still the same - from the 1860's, the principles are still the same. So I know it doesn't directly answer your question but if we're talking about the process of how futurists engage in tackling these very tough problems, in this situation you must talk about what those principles are and how they are best reflected. Now, to answer your question hopefully more specifically - now I'm just an average guy, grew up on the south side of Chicago, very proud of my Jackie Robinson West Little League team, kudos to them.
MJ: Yep, definitely.
DC: Yeah, that's pretty cool, it's very inspiring. But I think that there needs to be a balance of - and again, I wish I was a bureaucrat to understand how to define the balance, so I'm going to tackle as best I can - I think there needs to be a balance between gathering the information to do preventive work and have preventive situational awareness and take the right actions. What that looks like from a governmental or a policy perspective, I do not know. But I think we must have a very strong ability for vigilance but within that strong ability for vigilance, I think we need to just stay well-steeped in our principles. So I know it doesn't answer your question but I'm a normal guy. I'm not a bureaucrat that has that depth of knowledge.
MJ: Well, and I think I would agree with you. I think privacy is pretty important but I guess I'm just a little frustrated by some of the folks that I know that say ‘Well, I have nothing to hide.’ That may be true but I don't think you'd want a live webcam feed of yourself on the toilet in Times Square, for example.
MB: The fourth amendment, which is search and seizure, is that the one? That was put in there so that the police couldn't just show up in your house and start rooting through all of your stuff. Nobody wants that, whether you have something to hide or not. I don't have anything to hide at my desk at work either but I don't want my boss to just go firing through my desk, rooting through it. Even though he's my boss and technically it's his desk, it's still something I don't want and I don't think anybody does. I just never understood that answer of ‘Hey, I have nothing to hide.’
DC: Well, hold on a second. Let's think about it. Again, let me put on my futurist and challenge the orthodoxy. Who defines what is right and what is wrong and what should be hidden and what shouldn't be hidden? The definition today, the one that we're talking about, seems reasonable and logical to any rational person. But what if that definition changes and it changes in such a subtle way that we don't even recognize that it is changing or when it has changed and all of a sudden that standard has changed - well it is a violation to our sensitivities. I think that's where we get into trouble and that's why it's so very important to ask moral and philosophical questions as you engage in this because I don't want anyone taking pictures of me on a toilet either but 10 years from now, what if that's a standard protocol in crime investigation? I heard this crazy story that on Air Force One, when Air force One goes to other countries, that they don't let any of the president's excrements get released in that country because then they can analyze the president's health and it can give information away. I thought that was just crazy but it was actually different sources that were reporting something like that. If the standard then becomes that they can look at your poo and that can be part of crime scene investigation and that's within the privacy of your own home - this is really far out there and really weird, I know, but sometimes futurists, we have to kind of go out there really far just to stimulate the conversation. Is that a standard that we'd ever want to get to? I don't, personally.
MB: No, I don't either.
MJ: Well, I think outside of how that would affect the policing necessarily but also your insurance company, when they start looking through your waste products, so to speak, to determine your health. One of my favorite futurist shows, I think it was on the Discovery Channel several years ago, it was sort of a video scenario of the future and the guy woke up in the morning and he'd been out drinking the night before and he got a benefit from his insurance from having a toilet that sensed what he'd done and then tracked him and that set his insurance rate accordingly. He had a jar of someone else's urine that he dumped in the toilet in order to trigger that and then he fell out a window and broke his spine and it turned out his insurance was cancelled because he was guilty of insurance fraud. I think things like that though are interesting to think about, exactly like you were saying Dwight, in terms of where we want to end up. I think that when insurance companies are, for example, making decisions about things based on economics that actually affect people's lives, you can end up pretty far from maybe where your Democratic values are potentially.
DC: Amen. If you think about that, just to expand and build on that theme, the militarization of police forces, some could argue that eventually that becomes an infringement upon - or a threat - to the second amendment because we unfortunately have these mass killings in America with assault rifles. Well, there's, because of that, this movement to tamper with and to adjust the second amendment and I think a lot of people could say ‘This is exactly why we need guns and this is exactly why we need assault rifles to combat this increasing militarization of police.’ Now, I'm not saying I'm in favor of that or against it. I'm not being judgmental of that position. I'm saying that that is a logical position that someone could actually have as a result of the militarization of police because they want to say ‘We don't want the government to come into our home and we want to be able to defend ourselves.’ Now, the last four words to the second amendment says ‘Shall not be infringed’ and some people take those last four words to heart and will put their life on the line for it. So that's another conversation, that if you're talking about future solutions and how you get there independent of the technologies that are at play, it's the mindset and the social norms that need to be addressed and changed and sometimes it's harder to get the social mindsets and norms to change than it is for the technology to advance. I shouldn't say sometimes - I should say in the majority of cases, I would say.
MB: Yeah, I totally agree.
MJ: Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with us, Dwight?
DC: Yeah actually, if you don't mind, I want to send out to a request to all your listeners who are high school students and considering majors in college - I highly, highly, highly recommend you consider STEM-type majors. Science, technology, engineering and math. I think the world, the global community needs powerful minds, clever minds, creative minds that are going to solve our problems and I think this is going to be a century of biology and I just hope and pray that the next generation understands the importance of their contribution to humanity. I think they're going to be in a unique position to do some things that no other generation has had access to because of connectivity, because of the decreasing costs of developing technology and I just highly recommend that you major in a STEM-type major. But I also, with that, would plea, would send out a request that you minor in something like philosophy or religion or sociology because the challenges that you're going to have morally for your generation must be balanced with a nice, strong philosophical or spiritual or religious base because you're not going to be able to attack physics without having a philosophical base. You're not going to be able to attack the advances in biology without having a religious base. So take that to heart and go out and change the world and make it better for us.
MB: Absolutely. Please.
MJ: Sounds great. Okay, that's all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Dwight, thanks for joining us.
DC: Hey, thanks for having me. You guys take care.
MB: Thanks a lot.
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.
Image Credit: By Skyfox11 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.