Over the last few months, there have been many ruthless and emotionally devastating school shootings in America. Many solutions for the shooting epidemic have been proposed, such as new gun laws and arming teachers, however, these solutions are constantly being argued over and there does not seem to be any resolution coming soon. Last week, Axon (formerly known as Taser) suggested that non-lethal armed drones in schools are key to stopping mass shootings, something its own ethics board has condemned.
Axon claims that drones equipped with non-lethal weapons may effectively combat mass shootings by preventing the events from occurring or at least alleviate some of the worst effects. The company proposes that the technology should be based around and in schools, and that if drones are required, they could be deployed remotely and incapacitate a shooter in less than 60 seconds.
“Now is the time to make this technology a reality,” said Rick Smith – Axon chief executive and founder, “and to begin a robust public discussion around how to ethically introduce nonlethal drones into schools”.
Despite this company announcement, the company’s own ethics board is not happy, and within hours of the announcement had to issue a follow-up statement including their objections.
“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.”
One of the ethics board's main safeguarding concerns was that weaponized drones might escalate situations and "increase the rate at which force is used, especially in over-policed communities and communities of color."
Axon, however, decided to publicly announce its plans to develop the weapons, which would not be limited to police agencies only.
When asked in a Reddit AMA about what was the point of an ethics board, if Axon feels that they are better equipped to decide what is good and what isn’t good for society, and therefore views the guidance as a mere suggestion, Smith responded with: “Our advisory board is independent. They can disagree with us. That’s sort of the point. But the point of this discussion is for us to hear those views. We haven’t launched a product yet; we’ve launched a concept. And I want to hear dissent, including from our advisory board.”
Well, the ethic’s committee is so unimpressed, that Wael Abd-Almageed (a member of the board) told Reuters that he and eight other members are resigning from the ethics committee, which would leave only four people on it. Ethics committees are a vital part of technology companies as they can gather feedback and can be the voices of concern that companies may not hear about otherwise.
There has been such an uproar over this non-lethal weapon drone plan, that Axon has since announced it is halting the project.
"In light of feedback, we are pausing work on this project and refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward," said Smith in a statement.