Firm proposes Taser-armed drones to stop school shootings
*Taser developer Axon stated this week that it is developing drones equipped with electric stunning weapons that could fly in schools. But its own technology advisors quickly dismissed the idea as dangerous fantasy.
The publicly traded company that sells Tasers as well as police body cameras, suggested the idea of a new product for police drones to its artificial intelligence ethics panel, a group made up of highly-respected experts in technology and privacy.
Some expressed reservations about using drones in over-policed areas of color. They were not prepared for Axon’s announcement on Thursday that it plans to send Taser-equipped drones into classrooms in order to prevent mass shootings and immobilize an intruding gunman.
Axon CEO Rick Smith spoke out to The Associated Press. He said that he felt compelled after the mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school. He was “catastrophically disappointed in the response of police who didn’t move in to execute the suspect for more then an hour.”
But, he stressed that no product has been launched and that any possible launch would be in the future. He felt the idea needed to be shared immediately because of the ongoing public discussion about how schools can improve safety and effective ways for police to confront attackers.
“This idea should be shared while it is still fresh in our minds. I feel that if we wait six months, the world will change and people will forget about this pain. We’ll see a shift of sentiments where people will focus more on the possible problems than the actual problem. The news caused
Axon to see a rise in stock prices. The announcement angered some members of the ethics committee, who are now likely to resign in protest.
” This particular idea is a crackpot,” stated Barry Friedman, a New York University professor of law and member of the Axon AI Ethics Committee. Closed doors are not an option for drones. The universe’s physical properties still hold. So unless you have a drone in every single classroom in America, which seems insane, the idea just isn’t going to work.”
Friedman said it was a “dangerous and fantastical idea” that went far beyond the proposal for a Taser-equipped police drone that board members — some of them former or current police officials — had been debating in recent months.
” We begged the company to not do it,” Friedman said about the company’s announcement. “It was unnecessary, and shameful.”
The product idea was being discussed at Axon for at least 2019. Since then, the company has been trying to figure out if a drone equipped with a Taser is possible. Smith stated that the company has created computer-generated artwork renderings to show off a product design. They also conducted an internal test to determine if Taser darts, which transmit an immobilizing electrical jolt, could be fired from a flying drone. Smith said that he had spoken with the ethics board about the possibility of developing such products.
Board members spoke to The Associated Press and said they were shocked by the school drone proposal. They had been notified of it only this week. They then put together a collective statement of concern that called Axon’s decision “deeply regrettable.” The board’s disapproval was tweeted by the company shortly after its announcement on Thursday.
” I wouldn’t be surprised to see resignations,” Ryan Calo, an ethics board member and a University of Washington law professor, said. “I think everyone on the board has to make a choice about whether they want to stay involved.”
Friedman and Calo both described this week’s process as a sharp turnaround from the respectful relationship that Axon executives have had with the board in recent years on controversial topics such as face recognition — which Axon decided against using in its body cameras — and automated license plate readers.
“Sometimes, the company follows our advice, and other times it doesn’t,” Friedman stated. “It is important that the company has a thoughtful discussion and coordinates. Smith stated that the company is still in its early stages of product development and would continue to consult with the ethics board as well as community leaders and school officials. He acknowledged that the company could decide that the idea isn’t feasible and then abandon it.
He reacted to the suggestion that he had ignored concerns from the ethics committee, which is supposed to give guidance and share feedback. Smith is still the company’s chief executives.
” I have not ignored their words. Smith stated that people can debate and disagree. “I think there’s one thing the world can see, our board isn’t a whitewash.”
” “I hope they don’t resign,” he said.
Friday’s “Ask Me Anything” chat was held on Reddit. Smith admitted that “drones in schools may sound crazy”, but continued to answer detailed questions. He said that they could travel through school vents and perch on walls and doors near ceilings. It could be a good thing if a gunman tries to shoot one down, as it would distract from trying kill people.
” We do this because we care,” Smith stated. “We’re a company so eventually we have to find a financial plan that works. But at the end of it all, we’ve been successful because we have a mission and solve problems we care about.” he said.
Smith said to a Reddit user, “absolutely NOT” trying to capitalize upon recent tragedies in order to attract investors. He noted the advisory board’s disagreements but said the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas — and what he described as misguided proposals to arm teachers with guns — compelled him to go public with the drone idea to field a “far broader array of voices.”
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