The first two decades of the 21st century have seen the emergence of technology that has changed the way people work, play, interact and navigate the world. Computers got smaller and more portable. Smartphones replaced flip phones. Brick-and-mortar retail began giving way to e-commerce. And social media opened a Pandora’s box of privacy concerns, online manipulation and public division.
Technological progress, for good and bad, continues to advance. Augmented reality (AR), the real-time overlaying of digital information onto our real-world view, offers to make us more productive and keep us entertained. Autonomous vehicles (AV) are slated by most of the world’s vehicle manufacturers to be available for sale sometime early in the next decade. Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly, and it will improve the performance of these and many other technologies in ways that we cannot predict.
Technology is also changing the way police and criminals operate. Hackers steal data, sell identities and tamper with online systems to make money and harm the innocent. Drug cartels use drones to fly contraband into prisons, surveil police operations and transport drugs across our borders. Tomorrow they will use AR, AVs and AI in ways we can’t imagine today.
Police must use technology to stop criminals and terrorists. But they much do so within the bounds of the Constitution, making communities safer while upholding civil liberties. This is a challenging mandate, made more difficult as technology advances and society becomes more complex, more chaotic and more divided. Police departments need to attract and hire the best and brightest candidates and instill within them a dedication to upholding constitutional freedom as a core value, even as they strive to use technology to fight crime in new and creative ways.
Thomas J. Cowper, Retired Police Officer, Police Futurist, [email protected]