Robowarden Patrols South Korean Prison

At the forefront of robot technology and eyeballing lucrative export markets for their potentially world-conquering automatons, South Korea has designed robots for some really sketchy tasks, like shooting people. Now in the eastern South Korean city of Pohang, the government is planning a month-long trial with robot prison guards. According to the BBC, they will “monitor inmates for abnormal behavior” Says the BBC:

The three 5ft-high (1.5m) robots involved in the prison trial have been developed by the Asian Forum for Corrections, a South Korean group of researchers who specialise in criminality and prison policies.

It said the robots move on four wheels and are equipped with cameras and other sensors that allow them to detect risky behaviour such as violence and suicide.

Prof Lee Baik-Chu, of Kyonggi University, who led the design process, said the robots would alert human guards if they discovered a problem.

“As we’re almost done with creating its key operating system, we are now working on refining its details to make it look more friendly to inmates,” the professor told the Yonhap news agency.


Because that’s what you want…a “friendly” robotic prison guard with a huge baton and a can of pepper spray. The trial, which will cost half a million pounds Sterling, is just part of a nearly half-billion dollar investment that South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy has spent on robotic research from 2002-2010.

Relatively few people realize that robotic and artificial intelligence technology is already heavily deployed in the military sector. Those clever American drones deployed with Hellfire missiles are controlled by humans with joysticks, yes…but there’s a certain amount of onboard intelligence, because otherwise the communications lag time would make the drones un-flyable. Getting back to Korea, the BBC story cites “Samsung Techwin’s sale of a robotic surveillance system to Algeria and shipments of the humanoid Hubo robot to six universities in the US.” And while we’re talking about prison wardens and robot hunter-killers, let’s get creepy:

The South Korean defence company DoDAAM is also developing robotic gun turrets for export which can be programmed to open fire automatically.

Within the country English-speaking robotic teaching assistants are already being deployed in some schools to help children to practise their pronunciation.

The Joongang Daily newspaper reported in August that a company called Showbo had begun mass producing a robot that bowed to shop customers and told them about promotions on offer.

Other firms say they hope to start selling robots to help care for the elderly before the end of the decade, and personal assistant robots further down the line.

The government is also building a Robot Land theme park in the north-west city of Incheon to help highlight the country’s success. Planners say they hope 2.8 million people will visit each year.


Guess what? The 22nd Century called. It wants you to send jobs. I’m all for having as much robotic fun as possible, but in the context of mass unemployment, it’s hard for me to get excited about robo-development. And if these robo-boogie-ing wiseacres are going to be operating gun turrets and monitoring my nation’s borders? Sorry, kids. I think I just had a John Connor moment.

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