New York City to Test Controversial AI Gun Detection in Subway Stations

Turnstiles in the New York City subway.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the city will trial a new artificial intelligence tool that detects guns.

The trial run is set to begin in 90 days in line with legal requirements forcing the New York City Police Department to disclose its use of surveillance technology.

This comes just a few weeks after a viral video showed the beginning of a deadly altercation that took place on the subway where a man was killed with his own gun after pulling it on another passenger. That incident was already preceded by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s deployment of the National Guard on New York City’s subways.

But Evolv, the company behind the AI-powered gun detection tool, comes with controversies of its own. It faces two government probes and a class action lawsuit by shareholders, The Verge reported. Still, Mayor Adams seems determined to move forward, though he did note the 90-say waiting period will also be used to research alternatives.

“Bring us your technologies. Let us test it,” Adams, a former police officer, says, as reported by The Verge, in addition to calling himself a “technology mayor.”

Further, the Evolv gun detection scanners are already in certain parts of the city including Citi Field where the New York Mets baseball team plays, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were also temporarily installed at City Hall following another shooting on a New York City subway in 2022 and at a Bronx hospital where a man was shot in the emergency room’s waiting area. The Verge adds that many school districts across the country have already installed Evolv scanners. They look like standard metal detectors but use AI to check for weapons as well.

“But reports suggest the technology doesn’t actually work all that well,” The Verge reports. “Evolv’s scanners have reportedly flagged umbrellas as guns but failed to detect aluminum and steel tubes that were cut to look like gun barrels.” Another report from The Intercept details Evolv’s failures to detect weapons while setting off alarms about a possible bomb over a lunch box.

“Yesterday, Mayor Adams likened his subway scanner announcement to the moon landing, but more accurately he’s jumping the shark: Evolv’s own CEO has doubts on the effectiveness of their tech on the subways,” NYCLU, the New York affiliate of the ACLU, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to Adams calling the Evolv trial “our Sputnik moment.”

“Imagine if the funds that went towards purchasing unreliable AI-equipped scanners were instead used on resources that actually kept New Yorkers safe, like housing opportunities, mental health care, and jobs? New Yorkers deserve better than another security theater stunt,” the NYCLU adds in a subsequent post on X.

Meanwhile, New York already faces another AI blunder. A recent investigation found “an AI chatbot released by the New York City government to help business owners access pertinent information has been spouting falsehoods, at times even misinforming users about actions that are against the law,” Engadget reports.

There are also concerns about the ethics behind using Evolv’s AI weapons detection technology.

“During this interim period, we urge all New Yorkers to voice their concerns with the City over these dystopian technologies,” Jerome Greco, Supervising Attorney of the Digital Forensics Unit at The Legal Aid Society, the public defender nonprofit in New York City, says. “Contrary to the Mayor’s claims, New York City should not serve as a testing ground for surveillance corporations; the public has not consented to be a part of these experiments.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.