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US Police Have Quietly Brought a “Terrifying” Robot Dog Into Their Ranks

The four-legged robot “Spot” resembles a metal dog without a head.

Elias Marat

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Robot Dog

(TMU) — Police in the United States have quietly begun integrating advanced robots into officers’ ranks, raising alarm among civil liberties advocates and police watchdogs in the country.

Video of Boston Dynamics robots climbing stairs, carrying boxes, and doing basic parkour have long circulated around the internet, creeping out viewers with the lifelike motion of its humanoid robot model and it’s semi-autonomous four-legged robot “Spot”—a customizable bot which resembles a metal dog without a head that, understandably, some people call “terrifying.”

And now, radio station WBUR and the ACLU have discovered that the Massachusetts State Police have been leasing one of the Boston Dynamics’ robot dogs for use in its bomb squad.

Spot’s integration into the state police, which began in August, marks the very first time that such advanced robotics have been deployed within a civilian police force.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has been seeking official public records on the use of Spot in the police arsenal. The group believes that the robotic dogs, which can carry out such tasks like opening doors and clearing obstacles in high-risk environments, have already been put to use in live incidents.

However, many fear that the secretive introduction of such technology into police arsenals, along with their deadly potential in police encounters, can open the door to future abuses.

Kade Crockford, the director of the technology for liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, told WBUR:

“We just really don’t know enough about how the state police are using this.

And the technology that can be used in concert with a robotic system like this is almost limitless in terms of what kinds of surveillance and potentially even weaponization operations may be allowed.”

Police, however, have defended the use of Spot. Under their lease agreement with Boston Dynamics, the robot can’t be used to “physically harm or intimidate people.”

State police spokesman David Procopio said:

“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments.” 

Boston Dynamics is a U.S.-based company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese investment conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp.

Earlier this year, Boston Dynamics announced that it would begin selling the so-called “nimble robot” Spot, which is depicted in promotional materials as serving a number of roles in varied environments, including on construction sites or as remote security guards.

Boston Dynamics vice president for business development Michael Perry said that Spot is mainly being used in situations that would pose a danger to human personnel. Perry explained:

“Right now, our primary interest is sending the robot into situations where you want to collect information in an environment where it’s too dangerous to send a person, but not actually physically interacting with the space.”

However, the ACLU is primarily worried not so much about Spot itself, but about a general absence of transparency—especially regarding the law enforcement agencies’ rules and policies surrounding the use of robots.

In a separate statement provided to TechCrunch, the ACLU said:

“There is a lot we do not know about how and where these robotics systems are currently deployed in Massachusetts.

All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react.

We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies.

We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Federal Investigation Launched For Florida Manatee Found With ‘TRUMP’ Scraped on Its Back

Elias Marat

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While the United States remains caught in the throes of the fallout of last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol Building by pro-Trump rioters, authorities are seeking the details of a far different type of political crime far from Washington.

Last Sunday, an endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) was discovered by a boat captain in the waters of the Homosassa River with the word “TRUMP” written on its back. The case of animal abuse was first reported by the Citrus County Chronicle.

The sad assault on wildlife would seem shocking until recent years, but it’s only the latest in a disturbing trend of animals being branded with the names of politicians, with a black bear in Asheville, North Carolina, also being found last year with a Trump 2020 sticker affixed to its collar.

However, officials with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are taking this latest incident very seriously and have launched a full investigation of the harassment of a federally protected marine mammal. Anyone found responsible for this latest crime could find themselves liable to pay up to $100,000 while also facing up to a year in federal prisons.

Fortunately, early reports that the word was “carved” into the manatee’s back proved to be inaccurate, so it appears that the manatee hasn’t been injured. According to a statement by USFWS quoted by the Miami Herald, “it seems the word was written in algae on the animal’s back.”

“Manatees aren’t billboards, and people shouldn’t be messing with these sensitive and imperiled animals for any reason,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a press release. “However, this political graffiti was put on this manatee, it’s a crime to interfere with these creatures, which are protected under multiple federal laws.”

Florida manatees enjoy a range of special protections due to their unfortunate position as a threatened and very slow-moving animal. Any interference with the gentle giants carries heavy penalties under the 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Even President Trump himself signed into law the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in 2019, which makes intentional acts of cruelty to animals a crime punishable by federal law that could result in seven years in prison and heavy fines.

Regardless of whether the creature sustained a serious injury, authorities are keen on bringing the vandal to justice, with the CBD offering a $5,000 reward for any information that can lead to apprehending the culprit of the crime.

“It’s heartbreaking that this manatee was subjected to this vile, criminal act,” Lopez told the Herald. “It’s clear that whoever harmed this defenseless, gentle giant is capable of doing grave violence and needs to be apprehended immediately.”

The specific animal is a West Indian manatee, which is a species known to congregate in secluded, spring-fed waters of Citrus County during this time of the year.

“This is very out of character for this community,” said Craig Cavanna, a senior federal wildlife officer and current investigating officer. “Wildlife conservation is a core value in Citrus County. That’s why it’s called the Nature Coast.”

Manatees are lovingly known as “sea cows” due to their placid, bovine disposition and penchant for munching on water grasses, weeds and algae. In addition to being the Sunshine State’s marine mammal, the manatee is also one of the most strange and charismatic aquatic creatures in the United States. Its gassy diet means that it retains a large amount of methane in its gut, which it uses to regulate its buoyancy and reach the surface easily. Whenever it wants to sink back to the depths, it simply farts to release its gas.

Such a gentle and unique creature hardly deserves to have the name of America’s outgoing president scrawled onto its skin, so anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or the USFWS wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 and email at [email protected]

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Animals

Ex-Soldier Raids Animal Shelter With Assault Rifle, in Full Tactical Gear, To Get Cat Back

Elias Marat

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An ex-soldier in full tactical gear armed with an assault rifle launched a one-man raid on an animal shelter after he believed that his missing cat was being held at the facility.

The strange chain of events unfolded Monday in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, a court has learned, and offers a strange twist on your Rambo-style tale of a combat veteran running amok in the civilian world.

Tony Wittmann, a 44-year-old father of three and veteran of the Australian Army, was reportedly so enraged when he was informed by workers at the Lost Dogs’ Home in Melbourne that he threatened the shelter worker with a loaded assault rifle before tying her up and holding her captive in the parking lot of the facility.

“Do as I say and listen to me, I won’t shoot you,” he allegedly threatened her, according to reports from the court. “Don’t try anything or I’ll shoot you.”

The former soldier, who was discharged for a failure to render efficient service, is now facing multiple serious charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment, and armed robbery.

Wittmann was clad in a military-style flak vest, balaclava, and tactical helmet when he stormed the Cranbourne West animal shelter on Monday night after learning that his cat was being held overnight at the shelter.

Upon learning that the shelter would be unable to release his feline friend until the next morning, the former soldier decided to escalate matters by invading the premises and brandishing his assault weapon at the worker. According to her, the firearm looked like “something a SWAT team in the movies would use.”

The unhinged gunman then proceeded to grill the woman about “where all the cats were” as he continued brandishing the weapon with his finger on the trigger. He eventually forced the woman to get on her knees before he tied her hands behind her back with zip-ties.

“The accused said, ‘I’m going to close this door. If I see you, I’ll shoot you,’” Detective Senior Constable Jo MacDonald told the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

After Wittmann left, the woman eventually managed to free herself before notifying her boss, who promptly alerted local authorities.

The next morning, as detectives combed over the scene for any evidence of the strange incursion, Wittmann returned to retrieve his cat. In addition to failing to get his cat back, he was also detained and jailed, and has been deprived of the right to post bail.

“The community would be at risk personally of him committing further offences if granted bail,” Magistrate Greg McNamara said. “The strength of the prosecution case is a very strong one. Firearms were involved, loaded firearms.”

The crime has also left victims in a state of fear over what transpired, according to officials.

“On this occasion, [Wittman has] acted to get back possession of a cat, which he was only going to be without for possibly 10 hours,” MacDonald informed the court. “The victim and her work colleagues are absolutely traumatized by what’s happened.”

“He’s aware of their workplace. He lives close by. He has shown a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the general public,” MacDonald continued.

“He has collected a series of weapons. I’ve looked through his mobile telephone which highlights he’s purchased further weapons which are due to be delivered to his home address.”

In Wittmann’s defense, attorney Crystle Gomez Vasquez said that he had suffered a number of physical injuries and was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder due to his military service.

Wittmann is due to return to court in April.

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Donald Trump Jr. Asks Elon Musk to Set Up New Social Media Platform For His Dad

Elias Marat

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Donald Trump, Jr. has asked Tesla CEO Elon Musk to create a brand new social media platform that would never ban his father after the outgoing president was suspended or removed from most mainstream platforms.

In a video posted to Facebook-owned Instagram, Don Jr. asked: “Why doesn’t Elon Musk create a social media platform?”

“This guy put manned people into space,” he continued. “He did so privately. He took on big government and did it better, cheaper, faster than they ever could. This is the guy to do it.”

“Someone like him has the brilliance to come up with something that blows Twitter away,” the younger Trump continued.

“I am not looking for a conservative echo chamber, I want a platform to argue my ideas vs someone else’s and not just people in a place telling me what I want to hear.”

He continued to plead: “Elon why don’t you do that. Get out there and come up with a concept. I think you are literally the guy to save free speech in America.”

Don Jr.’s proposition comes just after Musk weighed in on Monday on the large social media platforms’ moves to censor Trump after holding him culpable for the botched uprising at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. by a mob of fervent pro-Trump supporters. 

“A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech,” Musk replied to a tweet of a satirical article by Babylon Bee entitled “Evil Fascist Dictator Censored and Voted Out Of Office.”

The Tesla and SpaceX founder’s politics have largely been elusive, although it’s a safe assumption that Musk’s politics lean to the right given his antagonistic interactions with left-wing Twitter users and his May 2020 tweet where he said “Take the red pill,” using a term that is often associated with Republican politics and right-wing causes.

Twitter users grew curious about what Musk meant after first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump replied to the tweet saying, “Taken!”

Weeks before issuing the controversial tweet, Musk described sweeping stay-at-home measures by public health authorities in response to the coronavirus pandemic as “fascist,” aligning himself with the Trump administration placing him at odds with Democratic lawmakers and governors such as Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, where most Tesla production is based.

So far, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have banned the president from using his social media accounts, which had a combined following of well over 100 million users from across the globe.

In its own explanation of why it banned the president, Twitter accused the outgoing head of state of using his platform to stoke political violence in the United States.

The official Twitter Safety account wrote: “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

“We made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules and cannot use Twitter to incite violence,” the explanation continued. “We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement.”

However, some civil liberties advocates have criticized the move and warned that the suspension of Trump illustrates the “unchecked power” of the large social media firms, which are regularly accused of using monopolistic practices to boost their own profits and crush the competition.

“For months, President Trump has been using social media platforms to seed doubt about the results of the election and to undermine the will of voters,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane in a statement.“We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions – especially when political realities make those decisions easier.” 

“President Trump can turn his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others – like many Black, Brown, and LGTBQ activists who have been censored by social media companies – will not have that luxury,” she continued. “It is our hope that these companies will apply their rules transparently to everyone.”

President Trump on Tuesday has described his removal from social media as a national tragedy that would result in “catastrophic” consequences for the tech giants, adding that their actions are “dividing and divisive and they’re showing something that I’ve been predicting for a long time.”

“I’ve been predicting it for a long time but people didn’t act on it and I think big tech has made a terrible mistake and very, very bad for our country and that’s leading others to do the same thing. It causes a lot of problems and a lot of danger,” he continued. “Big mistake and they shouldn’t be doing it.”

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