Editor's Note

Editor’s note: Is the NYPD’s K5 robot an example of friendly AI?

The robot has been working the midnight shifts and a recent holiday, which makes sense for keeping a watchful eye on crowds.

The NYPD’s K5 robot is docked inside the Times Square subway station on Oct. 9, 2023.

The NYPD’s K5 robot is docked inside the Times Square subway station on Oct. 9, 2023. Ralph R. Ortega

I went looking for K5 while passing through the Times Square subway station during my lunch break earlier this month, hoping to see the recently announced New York City Police Department robot on patrol in the busy transit hub. Blame curiosity and my love for science fiction. K5 for some evokes images of R2-D2 from “Star Wars.” Who would worry about running into that lovable droid on a subway platform? However, K5 also could pass for a sinister Dalek, the robotic alien from the British TV program “Doctor Who.” Perhaps I am letting my imagination run wild.

On a more practical level, K5 has worried advocates about privacy concerns with straphangers being watched by artificial intelligence. I was wrong to think I’d find K5 on patrol during the day. A couple of officers in the station noted K5 works the midnight shift, when crowds are often passing through the transit hub. According to its masters at the NYPD, the fully autonomous security robot is only recording video, not audio, as it moves about with an officer escort under a pilot program. There’s more to learn from the NYPD during an oversight hearing before the City Council Public Safety Committee later this month under the provisions of the POST Act, which requires the department to evaluate and report on surveillance technologies.

To my surprise, K5 also was deployed to the station on Indigenous Peoples Day. I spotted the robot at its docking station. That’s when I did my own surveillance and snapped its picture. I doubt K5 cares about its privacy being violated.