Nine members of the AI ethics board for police technology company Axon have resigned after the company said it would develop drones equipped with Tasers despite the board's earlier opposition.
Axon CEO Rick Smith proposed Taser drones as a possible answer to school shootings, even after the majority of Axon's AI board voted against a plan to pilot Taser drones with law enforcement. “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," the resigning board members wrote in a statement.
Axon did not immediately respond to Protocol's request for comment. The company said Sunday it was halting plans for the drones. "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," Smith said in a statement.
The board members who are resigning include: Wael Abd-Almageed, Miles Brundage, Ryan Calo, Danielle Citron, Rebekah Delsol, Barry Friedman, Chris Harris, Jennifer Lynch and Mecole McBride. That leaves four board members remaining, including two former chiefs of police and one former commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
Last week, Axon gave its AI ethics board two days' notice of its intention to publicly announce the development of Taser drones for schools, after the board had spent about a year vetting a proposal to let law enforcement officials pilot the drones. In doing so, the resigning board members wrote, the company "bypassed Axon’s commitment to consult with the company’s own AI Ethics Board.”
In comments to Protocol and in a Reddit AMA last week, Smith said he shared the board's concerns about the potential misuses of Taser drones, and said he hoped the board members and others would be part of public-facing discussions about how to address those issues. But board members were already contemplating their future with the company, wondering whether their involvement could ultimately have the impact they set out to make. The board had previously convinced Axon not to use facial recognition in its body-worn cameras.
“In the past, we were helpful and listened to and [our] feedback was relevant, and maybe not so much anymore,” UVA law professor Danielle Citron, who is among the resigning board members, told Protocol last week. “Maybe this was a period of time, and it’s not meant to be forever.”