Stun-gun drones in schools? Not so fast, says Taser firm’s own ethics board | Taser electronic weapons | The Guardian

2022-06-04 01:39:05 By : Mr. Yang Chen

Axon’s plan for stopping mass shootings condemned just hours after being announced

Axon, the company formerly known as Taser, is facing a public relations crisis after its own ethics board condemned the firm’s plans to build a stun-gun-equipped drone just hours after it was announced.

The company said in a press release on Thursday that it was developing a stun-gun-equipped drone “as part of a long-term plan to stop mass shootings”.

“Now is the time to make this technology a reality,” said Axon chief executive and founder Rick Smith, “and to begin a robust public discussion around how to ethically introduce nonlethal drones into schools”.

The proposed technology would be based in and around schools, and would be intended to “deploy remotely operated nonlethal drones capable of incapacitating an active shooter in less than 60 seconds”, the company said. If made, it would be the first mass-produced drone designed to attack people on US soil.

“Today, the only viable response to a mass shooter is another person with a gun,” Smith added. “In the aftermath of these events, we get stuck in fruitless debates. We need new and better solutions. For this reason, we have elected to publicly engage communities and stakeholders, and develop a remotely operated, nonlethal drone system that we believe will be a more effective, immediate, humane and ethical option to protect innocent people.”

But within hours of Axon confirming the development of the drone, the company was forced to issue a follow-up statement from its own internal ethics board expressing horror at the announcement.

“The idea of a Taser-equipped drone was brought to Axon’s AI Ethics Board over a year ago, and we have deliberated over it since,” the board said in a statement. “With Axon’s acquiescence, the Ethics Board decided to consider only a limited pilot of a Taser-equipped drone, to be used only by the police … Having done this work, and deliberated at length, a majority of the ethics board last month ultimately voted against Axon moving forward, even on those limited terms.

“Axon’s decision to announce publicly that it is proceeding with developing Taser-equipped drones and robots to be embedded in schools, and operated by someone other than police, gives us considerable pause.

“It is a notable expansion of what the board discussed at length. Axon’s announcement came before the company even began to find workable solutions to address many of the board’s already-stated concerns about the far more limited pilot we considered, and before any opportunity to consider the impact this technology will have on communities.

“Now, Axon has announced it would not limit the technology to policing agencies, but would make it more widely available. And the surveillance aspect of this proposal is wholly new to us. Reasonable minds can differ on the merits of police-controlled Taser-equipped drones – our own board disagreed internally – but we unanimously are concerned with the process Axon has employed regarding this idea of drones in school classrooms.”

Axon has not commented publicly on its ethics board’s statement.

The internal ethics board has successfully prevented product launches in the past, most notably when Axon was considering introducing facial recognition technology to the company’s line of police-worn body cameras.