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Researchers propose ‘ethically correct AI’ for smart guns that locks out mass shooters

A trio of computer scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York recently published research detailing a potential AI intervention for murder: an ethical lockout.

The big idea here is to stop mass shootings and other ethically incorrect uses for firearms through the development of an AI that can recognize intent, judge whether it’s ethical use, and ultimately render a firearm inert if a user tries to ready it for improper fire.

That sounds like a lofty goal, in fact the researchers themselves refer to it as a “blue sky” idea, but the technology to make it possible is already here.

According to the team’s research:

Predictably, some will object as follows: “The concept you introduce is attractive. But unfortunately it’s nothing more than a dream; actually, nothing more than a pipe dream. Is this AI really feasible, science- and engineering-wise?” We answer in the affirmative, confidently.

The research goes on to explain how recent breakthroughs involving long-term studies have lead to the development of various AI-powered reasoning systems that could serve to trivialize and implement a fairly simple ethical judgment system for firearms.

This paper doesn’t describe the creation of a smart gun itself, but the potential efficacy of an AI system that can make the same kinds of decisions for firearms users as, for example, cars that can lock out drivers if they can’t pass a breathalyzer.

In this way, the AI would be trained to recognize the human intent behind an action. The researchers describe the recent mass shooting at a Wal Mart in El Paso and offer different view of what could have happened:

The shooter is driving to Walmart, an assault rifle, and a massive amount of ammunition, in his vehicle. The AI we envisage knows that this weapon is there, and that it can be used only for very specific purposes, in very specific environments (and of course it knows what those purposes and environments are).

At Walmart itself, in the parking lot, any attempt on the part of the would-be assailant to use his weapon, or even position it for use in any way, will result in it being locked out by the AI. In the particular case at hand, the AI knows that killing anyone with the gun, except perhaps e.g. for self-defense purposes, is unethical. Since the AI rules out self-defense, the gun is rendered useless, and locked out.

This paints a wonderful picture. It’s hard to imagine any objections to a system that worked perfectly. Nobody needs to load, rack, or fire a firearm in a Wal Mart parking lot unless they’re in danger. If the AI could be developed in such a way that it would only allow users to fire in ethical situations such as self defense, while at a firing range, or in designated legal hunting areas, thousands of lives could be saved every year.

Of course, the researchers certainly predict myriad objections. After all, they’re focused on navigating the US political landscape. In most civilized nations gun control is common sense.

The team anticipates people pointing out that criminals will just use firearms that don’t have an AI watchdog embedded:

In reply, we note that our blue-sky conception is in no way restricted to the idea that the guarding AI is only in the weapons in question.

Clearly the contribution here isn’t the development of a smart gun, but the creation of an ethically correct AI. If criminals won’t put the AI on their guns, or they continue to use dumb weapons, the AI can still be effective when installed in other sensors. It could, hypothetically, be used to perform any number of functions once it determines violent human intent.

It could lock doors, stop elevators, alert authorities, change traffic light patterns, text location-based alerts, and any number of other reactionary measures including unlocking law enforcement and security personnel’s weapons for defense.

The researchers also figure there will be objections based on the idea that people could hack the weapons. This one’s pretty easily dismissed: firearms will be easier to secure than robots, and we’re already putting AI in those.

While there’s no such thing as total security, the US military fills their ships, planes, and missiles with AI and we’ve managed to figure out how to keep the enemy from hacking them. We should be able to keep police officers’ service weapons just as safe.

Realistically, it takes a leap of faith to assume an ethical AI can be made to understand the difference between situations such as, for example, home invasion and domestic violence, but the groundwork is already there.

If you look at driverless cars, we know people have already died because they relied on an AI to protect them. But we also know that the potential to save tens of thousands of lives is too great to ignore in the face of a, so far, relatively small number of accidental fatalities.

It’s likely that, just like Tesla’s AI, a gun control AI could result in accidental and unnecessary deaths. But approximately 24,000 people die annually in the US due to suicide by firearm, 1,500 children are killed by gun violence, and almost 14,000 adults are murdered with guns. It stands to reason an AI-intervention could significantly decrease those numbers.

You can read the whole paper here.

Published February 19, 2021 — 19:35 UTC

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 4: The Best Guns in Blackout

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the first game in the series to feature a battle royale mode, inspiring the spin-off title Warzone to improve upon that foundation. Blackout mode drops you and 87-99 other players onto an enormous map to fight to the death. There are a ton of different weapons at your disposal, but it can be difficult to determine what you should use when you’re new to the mode and its stealth-oriented approach to combat. Cold War didn’t bring back this mode, leaving Blackout as the only Black Ops specific version of a Call of Duty battle royale.

Further Reading

The best guns in Blackout

For this list, we’ve chosen 10 weapons that you’ll have great success with in Blackout mode. These include light machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols. We’ve left out sniper rifles, as they’re more likely to get you spotted and killed than anything else, and specialty weapons because they’re difficult to find. These are all great mid-tier choices that won’t require an immense amount of effort to find and won’t put you at risk of being killed. These are the best guns you can use in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout.

1. RK 7 Garrison

You won’t last very long in a full Blackout match if you use a pistol the entire time, but the RK 7 Garrison is a great option for when you first touch down from your parachute. With burst-fire rather than a traditional semi-automatic mode, the RK 7 Garrison can take enemies – even armored ones – down fairly quickly, and buy you the time you need to find something a little beefier.

2. SG12

Black Ops SG12

There are a few different shotguns available in Blackout, but they aren’t all created equal. The pump-action MOG-12 shotgun is unreliable, even at very close range, to kill a target armed with something like a submachine gun or assault rifle. The semi-automatic SG12, on the other hand, can fire a few shots before your enemy is able to respond, and it’s the perfect weapon for guarding a small room against invaders.

3. Spitfire

Black Ops Spitfire

If you need to absolutely light a room up with your bullets, we’d consider a lamp instead, but the Spitfire is also a great choice. With a ridiculous rate of fire and .45 caliber ammunition capable of stopping targets better than some of the other submachine guns, it’s ideal for those who stick primarily to indoor areas in Blackout, and it serves well in conjunction with a tactical rifle.

4. GKS

Black Ops GKS

A more well-rounded submachine gun than the Spitfire, the GKS is accurate and functions well in both indoor and outdoor areas, and can essentially take the place of an assault rifle in your loadout. This gives you room for a specialty weapon for taking out helicopters or ground vehicles – just make sure you keep plenty of reserve ammunition in stock.


Black Ops VAPR-XKG

Reliable for indoor and outdoor firefights, the VAPR-XKG is a balanced and powerful rifle that you can count on in nearly any engagement. It has enough range to take on enemies wielding tactical rifles, and its rate of fire and damage are plenty high enough to compete with smaller weapons. Using 5.56 ammunition, you’ll have no problem keeping it firing, and several attachments can be added to further improve its efficiency.

6. Hellion Salvo

Black Ops Hellion Salvo

See a helicopter flying through the air or a truck driving on the road? Want to see it explode? Then the Hellion Salvo is the weapon you’re looking for. You won’t run into the launcher too often, but its rockets allow you to quickly destroy enemy vehicles, throwing a wrench into a potential escape plan. It also has lock-on for hitting mobile vehicles, but you will have to fire a couple of shots to take out a truck coming directly toward you.

7. Zweihänder

Black Ops Zweihänder

This gun. This gun. The Zweihänder falls into the category of super-special guns you aren’t going to usually find roaming around on the map, but there are usually a ton of them on the floor of the Asylum to the east. More accurate than it has any right to be and packing a huge punch, the Zweihänder will win nearly any battle it’s thrown into, against either a human or a pack of zombies.

8. Swordfish

Black Ops Swordfish

A burst-fire tactical rifle, the Swordfish excels in medium-range encounters, and you’ll be able to take out most assault-rifle-wielding enemies you see out in the open. It won’t replace the efficiency of an assault rifle, shotgun, or submachine gun for closer engagements, but you can quickly spit out bullets in a hurry in the event that you are surprised by another player in a building.

9. Titan

Black Ops Titan

The Titan light machine gun is the perfect weapon for holding down a position, especially toward the end of a match when you’re likely defending yourself outside. Putting out an absurd amount of damage and using 7.62 ammunition that is readily available, it can easily be your main weapon during a Blackout match, though its accuracy is significantly reduced at longer distances.

10. Rampart 17

Black Ops Rampart 17

Technically an assault rifle because of its automatic fire, the Rampart 17 is nevertheless a tremendous option for medium-long engagements. The weapon does considerably more damage than most other automatic weapons, and though it has a slower rate of fire as a tradeoff, it only takes a few hits to kill an enemy.

Editors’ Choice

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With guns drawn, police raid home and seize computers of COVID-19 data whistleblower

Eight months ago, Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force praised Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard as an example of “the kind of knowledge and power we need to put into the hands of the American people.” That dashboard was built by Rebekah Jones.

But in May, Jones was fired by the Florida Department of Health for reportedly refusing to manipulate that data to justify reopening the state early — and now, Florida state police have raided her home and seized the equipment she was using to maintain a new, independent COVID-19 tracker of her own.

Jones posted a series of tweets about the incident, including a video of police entering — with guns drawn.

Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed to the Miami Herald and the Tallahassee Democrat that police had a search warrant and had seized her equipment. Here’s the department’s full statement as provided to The Verge:

“This morning FDLE served a search warrant at a residence on Centerville Court in Tallahassee, the home of Rebekah Jones. FDLE began an investigation November 10, 2020 after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to a Department of Health messaging system which is part of an emergency alert system, to be used for emergencies only. Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system.

When agents arrived, they knocked on the door and called Ms. Jones in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents. After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter. Ms. Jones family was upstairs when agents made entry into the home.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported last month, someone mysteriously sent an unauthorized message to the state’s emergency public health and medical coordination team, reading “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”

According to an affidavit provided to us by the FDLE, law enforcement believes that Jones or someone at her address was the one who sent it. We’re not publishing the affidavit because it contains lots of personally identifying information, but the FDLE claims the message was sent from a Comcast IP associated with her home address and email address, and the affidavit asks permission to seize and search all computer equipment police might find.

But the COVID-19 data scientist says she didn’t do it, repeatedly denying to CNN in a full video interview that she’d accessed the system or sent any message, that the message doesn’t reflect how she talks and that the number of deaths quoted was wrong. She suggested that Florida police already knew she didn’t send the message, because they didn’t seize her router or her husband’s computer — only her own computer and phone.

“They took my phone, and they took the computer that I used to run my companies. On my phone is every communication I’ve ever had with someone who works at the state who’s come to me in confidence and told me about things that could get them fired or in trouble,” she told CNN, suggesting that the raid was designed to intimidate whistleblowers and critics of Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

A spokesperson for DeSantis told CNN his office had no knowledge of the investigation.

While there was a suggestion last month that the Florida messaging system might have been hacked rather than simply improperly accessed, it apparently didn’t have particularly strong security anyhow: the affidavit says all of the registered users shared the same username and password.

Jones didn’t comment when we asked, but on Twitter she says she’s getting a new computer and will continue to update her new website.

Additional reporting by Mitchell Clark

Update December 8th, 1:01PM ET: Added that Jones has vehemently denied the allegations in an interview with CNN.

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