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The Future of Face Matching at Axon and AI Ethics Board Report

By: Rick Smith

Published on

In April of 2018, the Axon AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board (the board) was formed to provide us with advice on the development of AI products and services. Because of the business we are in, we asked them to pay particular attention to the impact of AI technologies on communities. The first board report provides us with thoughtful and actionable recommendations regarding face recognition technology that we, as a company, agree with. We believe it is important to share and discuss these recommendations here.

The Future of Face Matching

Current face matching technology raises serious ethical concerns. In addition, there are technological limitations to using this technology on body cameras. Consistent with the board's recommendation, Axon will not be commercializing face matching products on our body cameras at this time.

We do believe face matching technology deserves further research to better understand and solve for the key issues identified in the report, including evaluating ways to de-bias algorithms as the board recommends. Our AI team will continue to evaluate the state of face recognition technologies and will keep the board informed about our research.

Axon and Face Detection

To date, Axon's work on face recognition has revolved around detecting, tracking and re-identifying faces in videos for the purpose of blurring out or redacting those faces prior to public release, in service of protecting people's privacy rights. “Re-identification” refers to the automated process of finding all the re-occurrences of a person's face in a single video. These algorithms do not attempt to match the identity of the individual to a database, only to identify video frames that are likely to include faces so that they can be redacted. Face detection (not face matching) and re-identification technology improves civic oversight by accelerating the speed and reducing the cost for agencies to disclose videos to the public, while protecting individual privacy during public records release events.

Legal and Ethical Responsibility

Technology is moving much faster than legislative bodies and courts can respond. Hence, we believe it is critical for technology leaders to work hard to understand the ethical, legal, and community implications for new technologies that are too new to be effectively covered by existing law.

With the guidance of our board, we are committed to developing technologies in an ethical and responsible manner. We will invest in working in a transparent manner and in tandem with leading independent researchers to de-bias training data and algorithms.

Policing Transparency and Democratic Accountability

Our product development philosophy is clear and includes a wide array of oversight and audit technologies to deter abuse. This includes cartridge serialization (AFID), weapons data logs to record and report usage, integrated TASER cameras and body-worn cameras, automated sensors to activate camera recording, and soon gunshot detection to ensure events involving firearm discharges are recorded. None of these safeguards are required by law, but we see them as the right thing to do. Axon's goal is to build powerful new technologies with the right safeguards in place within the spirit of legal and ethical frameworks and community expectations. The board supports us in our pursuit to more clearly define and establish our ethical framework for new products. Our goal is to put the formal ethical framework policy in place later this year. We also share the board's desire to build the appropriate tools that will allow agencies to release to the public the appropriate data about the use of Axon products.

Learning from the Process

We thank the members of our board for the advice they have provided us, and we appreciate the time and effort that each member has dedicated to this effort. Outside ethical advisory boards like this are a new concept among technology companies, and we are proud to embrace it and design an ethical roadmap that we hope other companies can emulate. Our hope is that Axon’s and the board’s lessons learned can help guide other companies and organizations that may be considering implementing similar advisory boards.