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Open Mic Protests Plan For AI-Powered Taser Drones In Schools

Axon ignored recommendations from its AI ethics Board, leading to mass resignation.

Axon, a company known for developing Taser electroshock weapons and body cameras, plans to develop Taser-equipped drones to deploy in schools and public spaces.

In May 2022, the company’s own AI Ethics Board voted against a pilot program with law enforcement due to concerns over surveillance and abuse, particularly against people of color. However, weeks later, in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Axon announced its intention to embed Taser-equipped drones in schools to stop mass shootings, using AI surveillance and virtual reality simulations. Nine of the thirteen members of the AI Ethics Board resigned, stating they had “lost faith in Axon’s ability to be a responsible partner.”

Axon shareholders are now requesting that the company discontinue the development and plans for sale of a remotely-operated Taser drone system, which poses serious risks to privacy, racial equity, and physical safety. If Axon moves forward with the deployment of Taser-equipped drones, the company risks extreme reputational damage, litigation, and financial costs, as well as putting the physical and psychological safety of students and targeted communities.

Open MIC has submitted a shareholder proposal at Axon calling on the company to abandon its dangerous proposal to deploy AI-assisted drones equipped with TASERs in schools and other public environments. The proposal highlights a series of stunning governance failures from Axon’s leadership, exposing investors to unprecedented risks in flagrant disregard of the company’s own safeguards.

Axon initially announced its plan to equip police-piloted drones with TASERs for deployment in schools in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre. The company’s own AI Ethics Board, which had soundly rejected a narrow pilot study on such drones only weeks before, resigned in protest, noting that Axon had bypassed its commitment to consult them for a project that “has no realistic chance of solving the mass shooting problem Axon now is prescribing it for.”

In response, Axon paused its drone development plan, only to restart the project months later with a newly-convened advisory committee—one that company leadership still makes no promises to heed. Today in Arizona, Axon is hosting their annual event “Axon Accelerate” which they describe as “Public Safety’s Premier Technology Conference.”

Axon’s proposal would expose students and teachers to constant surveillance at the mercy of AI systems with a track record of perpetuating racial discrimination and other harmful disparities. With weaponized drones involved, these automated errors could result in serious physical harm. It also remains unclear how the drones would maneuver through school buildings, or whether TASERs would be effective against individuals in body armor.

Astonishingly, Axon has still failed to put forth a considered proposal to address either these technical or ethical concerns. In response to Open MIC’s resolution, Axon instead directed investors to read CEO Rick Smith’s futuristic graphic novel for details.

“Axon’s plan to protect investors, let alone students subjected to this invasive and dangerous program, amounts to literal science fiction,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC. “Instead of respecting the governance systems that Axon itself put in place, company leadership is barreling toward inflicting serious human rights violations and inviting existential legal risk. Shareholders have a duty to intervene and right this rapidly-sinking ship.”

The proposal is scheduled to be voted on by shareholders at Axon’s 2023 annual investor meeting on May 31.

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