Axon is pausing its plan to use Taser-equipped drones to stop school shootings after the majority of its AI ethics committee resigned in protest.
On Monday, nine of the 14 members resigned, claiming the company failed to consult Axon’s AI ethics committee on the Taser-equipped drones.
“The taser-equipped drone also has no realistic chance of solving the mass shooting problem Axon now mandates it to solve, and only distracts society from real solutions to a tragic problem,” the retiring board members wrote(Opens in a new window) in a public resignation letter.
The resignations come days after Axon, a provider of body cameras and tasers, introduced the drone as a possible solution to America’s mass shooting problem. The airborne bot is armed with a taser that can be remotely deployed to incapacitate a live gunman. Although the project is intended as a concept, the company initially planned to have a “full solution” on the market by 2024.
However, the proposal was immediately met with opposition from critics, including(Opens in a new window) Privacy groups, on fears that the drones would result in a dystopian robotic police force capable of policing society. Others were concerned(Opens in a new window) The company takes advantage of the mass shooting problem to sell hardware.
Axon’s own AI ethics committee also voted against the company’s original proposal for the Taser-equipped drones a few weeks ago. However, board members were surprised when the company unveiled the drone to the public last week after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and two teachers.
“Prior to Axon’s announcement, we asked the company to pull out. But the company rushed forward in a way that many of us felt was trading in the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings. Significantly for us, Axon’s obligation to consult with the company’s AI ethics committee was circumvented,” the retiring board members wrote.
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In response, Axon halts work on the drone. The company’s CEO, Rick Smith, released on Sunday(Opens in a new window) a blog post stating, “In light of the feedback, we are pausing work on this project and refocusing on continuing to work with key stakeholders to fully explore the best way forward.”
“Our announcement was intended to initiate a conversation about this as a possible solution, and it prompted a significant public discussion that has given us a deeper understanding of the complex and important considerations surrounding this matter,” he added. “I recognize that our passion for finding new solutions to end mass shootings has led us to act quickly to share our ideas.”
Though nine members of the AI ethics committee have resigned, Smith said his company will “continue to seek diverse perspectives” to challenge the company’s thinking and guide its research efforts.
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