The way Timnit Gebru sees it, the foundations of the future are being built now. In Silicon Valley, home to the world's biggest tech companies, the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is already well under way. Software is being written and algorithms are being trained that will determine the shape of our lives for decades or even centuries to come. If the tech billionaires get their way, the world will run on artificial intelligence. Cars will drive themselves and computers will diagnose and cure diseases. Art, music and movies will be automatically generated.
Taser maker Axon is walking back plans to make a taser-equipped drone after nine members of its AI Ethics board resigned. Axon, a technology company known for developing tasers and products for police and the military, wanted to market the product as a means of stopping mass shootings. Pushback from the ethics AI Ethics board was swift and forceful. "We all feel the desperate need to do something to address our epidemic of mass shootings. But Axon's proposal to elevate a tech-and-policing response when there are far less harmful alternatives, is not the solution," read a statement from the resigning board members.
The majority of Axon's AI ethics board have resigned after the company announced that it's developing taser-equipped drones. In response to yet another shooting in a US school, Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith began thinking about how the company could help put a stop to the all too regular occurrence. The shooting kicked off the usual debate over whether stricter gun laws are needed. Unfortunately, we all know nothing is likely to really change and we'll be back to rehashing the same arguments the next time more children lose their lives. "In the aftermath of these events, we get stuck in fruitless debates. We need new and better solutions," Smith said in a statement.
Nine of 12 members of an ethics board appointed by Axon to advise its technology decisions have resigned, citing the company's plan to install Taser-equipped drones and pervasive surveillance at schools. "After several years of work, the company has fundamentally failed to embrace the values that we have tried to instill," the departing members write. "We have lost faith in Axon's ability to be a responsible partner." Axon (formerly Taser) has grown into a juggernaut of law enforcement software and hardware in recent years, providing not just the familiar and formerly eponymous electric weapons but body cameras and entire digital platforms for evidence management. Setting aside for now the inherent risks of privatizing such things, Axon has been rather surprisingly thoughtful with its tech, soliciting the advice of the communities these tools will be used in as well as the cops who will wear or wield them.
Axon, which manufactures a variety of Tasers under the general rubric "energy weapons," declined to make any executives available for an interview. Rick Smith, its founder and chief, said in a statement Sunday that the project's response had "provided us with a deeper appreciation of the complex and important considerations" relating to shock drones in schools and added, "I acknowledge that our passion for finding new solutions to stop mass shootings led us to move quickly to share our ideas."
A majority of Axon's AI ethics board resigned in protest yesterday, following an announcement last week that the company planned to equip drones with Tasers and cameras as a way to end mass shootings in schools. The company backed down on its proposal Sunday, but the damage had been done. Axon had first asked the advisory board to consider a pilot program to outfit a select number of police departments with Taser-drones last year, and again last month. A majority of the ethics advisory board, which comprises AI ethics experts, law professors, and police reform and civil liberties advocates, opposed it both times. Advisory board chairman Barry Friedman told WIRED that Axon never asked the group to review any scenario involving schools, and that launching the pilot program without addressing previously stated concerns is dismissive of the board and its established process.
Axon has paused work on a project to build drones equipped with its Tasers. A majority of its artificial intelligence ethics board quit after the plan was announced last week. Nine of the 12 members said in a resignation letter that, just a few weeks ago, the board voted 8-4 to recommend that Axon shouldn't move forward with a pilot study for a Taser-equipped drone concept. "In that limited conception, the Taser-equipped drone was to be used only in situations in which it might avoid a police officer using a firearm, thereby potentially saving a life," the nine board members wrote. They noted Axon might decline to follow that recommendation and were working on a report regarding measures the company should have in place were it to move forward.
This photo provided by Axon Enterprise depicts a conceptual design through a computer-generated rendering of a taser drone. Axon Enterprise, Inc. via AP hide caption This photo provided by Axon Enterprise depicts a conceptual design through a computer-generated rendering of a taser drone. WASHINGTON -- Axon, the company best known for developing the Taser, said Monday it was halting plans to develop a Taser-equipped drone after a majority of its ethics board resigned over the controversial project. Axon's founder and CEO Rick Smith said the company's announcement last week -- which drew a rebuke from its artificial intelligence ethics board -- was intended to "initiate a conversation on this as a potential solution." Smith said the ensuing discussion "provided us with a deeper appreciation of the complex and important considerations" around the issue.
From the company that brought you Taser stun guns, comes an AI weapon so dangerous it was rejected by the company's own Artificial Intelligence ethics advisory board. But that didn't stop the CEO from announcing the weapon as a response to the May 24 Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting, like some misguided white horse hoping to tase our nation to safety. According to the BBC, Axon (formerly known, terrifyingly, as Taser International), has announced plans to produce a lightweight taser that can be deployed on a drone or robot and operated remotely via "targeting algorithms." The operator, a human (for now), will have "agreed to take on legal and moral responsibility for any action that takes place." This is how they hope to help stop school shootings.
This photo provided by Axon Enterprise depicts a conceptual design through a computer-generated rendering of a taser drone. Axon Enterprise, Inc. via AP hide caption This photo provided by Axon Enterprise depicts a conceptual design through a computer-generated rendering of a taser drone. Taser developer Axon said this week it is working to build drones armed with the electric stunning weapons that could fly in schools and "help prevent the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook, or Columbine." But its own technology advisers quickly panned the idea as a dangerous fantasy. The publicly traded company, which sells Tasers and police body cameras, floated the idea of a new police drone product last year to its artificial intelligence ethics board, a group of well-respected experts in technology, policing and privacy. Some of them expressed reservations about weaponizing drones in over-policed communities of color.