back to article CEO of AI surveillance upstart Banjo walks the plank after white supremacist past sinks contracts

The CEO of surveillance AI upstart Banjo, Damien Patton, has quit the company he founded following revelations he was involved with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1990s and participated in the shooting of a synagogue. “Banjo, Inc announced today that the company's current CEO and founder, Damien Patton has resigned and that the …

  1. skeptical i
    Big Brother

    Big Banjo

    re: "Banjo makes machine-learning-based software that ... raises alerts if spots anything interesting, such as an in-progress crime"

    Or a black man jogging through a white neighborhood? Heaven help him if he's wearing a hoodie too.

    That matter aside (serious as it is), do we really need Another Ring to Surveille Them All under the fig leaf of "fighting crime"?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Big Banjo

      Or a black man jogging through a white neighborhood?

      A black man jogging through a white neighborhood before lunging at a man carrying a gun which had been pointed at the floor in a non-threatening manner. FTFY.

      Skin colour is irrelevant here, if you're legally holding a loaded gun passively and someone is angrily trying to take that from you then you're well within your rights to assume they mean to shoot you with it. As long as the gun is pointed down and not at someone, then its not posing a threat, and attacking the person holding it is predictably going to end up with you being shot.

      I mean really, what do you think the guy carrying the gun should have done? Let the angry guy take it from him? To do what with it? As soon as the jogger attacked the guy carrying the gun someone was going to get shot, at that point the only question was which one of them. If the gun is legally held and legally carried than moralizing about gun rights is irrelevant - it becomes simple self defence when attacked.

      The problem in this instance is the survivors were within their rights to carry the guns, and to perform a citizens arrest on someone they perceived as matching the description of being wanted suspect. The dead guy is well within his rights to object to what he perceives as racist behavior; he is not within his rights to attempt to seize their firearms by force. Send along a white guy to try to take one of the assault rifles by force from one of the black panthers now patrolling the area and he's gonna get shot; he'd get shot if he were black too.

      Despite the excessive faux moralizing over this, put any reasonable person of any race in the situation holding the weapon and anyone of any race in the position of the stranger trying to forcibly take it from them, and the end result will be the same.

      1. vir

        Re: Big Banjo

        A black man jogging through a white neighborhood before lunging at a man carrying a gun which had been pointed at the floor in a non-threatening manner. FTFY.

        If two guys follow you in a truck and one of them gets out with a shotgun, are you really going to tell me that you would not perceive that as threatening? The problem in this instance is that - all debate about the utility of citizens' arrest laws aside - the killers took it upon themselves to act wildly outside the scope of even the most lenient interpretation of the law. Despite your excessive victim-blaming and attempts to cast his murders as the aggrieved party, extrajudicial killing has never been legal.

      2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        "lunging at a man carrying a gun"

        What the hell was he doing jumping out of a truck with a gun in his hand, armed buddy in tow, confronting an unarmed stranger? Riddle me that.

        What was the jogger supposed to do, stand there and get shot? Run off?

        This could have been avoided - by not getting out of a car armed.

        C.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "lunging at a man carrying a gun"

          What the hell was he doing jumping out of a truck with a gun in his hand, armed buddy in tow, confronting an unarmed stranger? Riddle me that.

          He disembarked his legally registered vehicle with his legally registered firearm which he was legally allowed to carry to perform a citizens arrest of someone he suspected to be a wanted suspect responsible for a slew of crimes in his neighborhood.

          He had reasonable suspicion the suspect may turn violent hence the carrying of the firearm. The suspect then proceeded to attack him, despite his not having provoked the suspect or pointed the weapon at him at any time. During the course of defending himself the suspect was shot and died.

          This isn't a racial issue. The race of the suspect and the citizens could be swapped around any which way you like and my view would remain the same. Whether or not you are guilty of the crime you are accused of, when someone with a gun tells you to stop and wait for the police, the best course of action is to do that and then calmly report them; attacking them will end with you either shot dead, or on trial for shooting them. Neither is a favourable outcome.

          Worthy of note however, is the volume of butthurt racists doing their level best to see a racial problem where none exists, yet remaining curiously silent to the extremely heavily armed men in tactical body armour "patrolling" the neighbourhood with assault weapons, because those guys are black. Check your prejudices folks, because your racism is showing.

          1. vir

            Re: "lunging at a man carrying a gun"

            Pretty good troll: a solid 3/5

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Big Banjo

        Wow some people will stoop to any level to defend rednecks jumping in their pickup truck and driving around town killing black people.

      4. Schultz Silver badge
        Holmes

        Carrying a gun in a non threatening manner....

        I actually went to look at the raw video just now to see how the shooting happened - also because I was curious how you carry a shotgun in a non threatening manner. I saw a black man trying to run around a pickup truck and emerging on a fight with a guy holding a gun. No indication that he did anything but try to get around the guys who blocked his way. But then, the video doesn't seem to show some crucial moments in the confrontation.

        I guess everybody will see what he likes in a video such as this. Call it a Rohrschach test for the viewer. So we won't learn anything about the shooting here, but may learn a lot about our fellow commenters.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Carrying a gun in a non threatening manner....

          No indication that he did anything but try to get around the guys who blocked his way

          Watch it again. He clearly runs down the right hand side of the truck while the gunman exits the left side and remains there. The dead guy then crosses over the front of the truck before lunging for the weapon.

          He was already around them, and instead of simply waiting for the police to arrive, he chose to charge the guy and attempt to forcibly take his gun. Things ended how they would always end in that situation. Its not a race issue.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    worries that artificial intelligence programs can have intrinsic biases that put people from minorities at a disadvantage

    This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how this works.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I'm sorry, are you saying that there is no bias in AI ?

      Because, given the number of high-profile people that are talking about biases in AI, I think you would be wrong.

      1. YARR

        AI can't be intrinsically biased, because it starts from a neutral position and only knows the information that's given as input. Most reported "bias" is probably real differences in data by race. For example, facial recognition being more diffiult to discern when there is less color contrast between skin and facial features, or some historical data being more readily available in countries with a particular racial majority (which skews learning to that data set) .

        1. Schultz Silver badge

          "AI can't be intrinsically biased"

          Isn't thar statement a bit like "humans are born free of sin"? Technically correct, but not very helpful to discuss the human condition.

  3. Joe W Silver badge

    I don't downplay his past (I hope, I really don't mean to), and a driveby shooting is a serious thing, not matter what and whom you are shooting at. That said, how long until you can be considered to be a... better..(?) person than what you had been? Maybe never, though never is a very long time indeed. Sure, this will absolutely depend on what you did. Still, I do find this a really difficult question.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      My thoughts were along the same lines as well. How long before a person can be forgiven for past actions? How long before they are rehabilitated?

      The way he is being treated it seems that the answer is never. In which case wouldn't it just be kinder to euthanise all people convicted of crimes above a certain level, as this would be better than the cruel and unusual punishment of hanging the crime around their necks for the rest of their lives.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        > How long before a person can be forgiven for past actions? How long before they are rehabilitated?

        When you work in that kind of field you need to acknowledge ALL your past if you're going to tell your backstory. The fact that he selectively edited out is enough to make one wonder what else he hasn't owned up to.

      2. jason_derp Bronze badge

        "...wouldn't it just be kinder to euthanise all people convicted of crimes above a certain level..."

        This is a great example of the real problem in these our modern times. Euthanisation should not be limited to criminals, bigots, people of color, or any arbitrary classification, but to all those who draw breath and consume resources. It's time we step up to the challenge and focus our efforts on the concentrated extinction of our species, and we need to start sooner rather than later to make up for centuries of lost time.

      3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        How long before a person can be forgiven for past actions? How long before they are rehabilitated?

        That is usually defined by law.

        The question then is; what when individuals or groups do not agree with that, don't consider someone deserving of having their crime considered spent?

        That should also come down to law.

        This is why we have laws.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lessons have been learned...

      or maybe not, unless you can point out where you actually learned anything.

      If you have something in your past that's disagreeable, especially *that* disagreeable, the *only* way you can possibly benefit from the revelations of that - in the public's eyes - is if *you* are the one revealing it.

      Only then can you frame it as a progression - from stupid young idiot to more mature and more aware.

      Otherwise, all you've got is "I was sooo stupid, and still am."

    3. Citizen of Nowhere

      Leaving aside questions about whether he is now a better person, or what is fair, a person with some very specific past actions and beliefs found himself in a very specific position in the present. It is not hard to see why those past actions and beliefs made his maintaining that present position untenable. In a completely different position his past might never have caught up with him in the way it has now done.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Well, objectively speaking, I think this whole issue was inevitable.

        Come on, if you had such a past, would you lay it on the table in front of the press as soon as you got nominated CEO ? In our unforgiving societal climate ? I don't think so.

        Whether he is or not a better person now, he did the only thing he could ; try to keep it hidden as long as possible, because the issue was a foregone conclusion if it became known, as it now has.

        If he had been in charge of practically any other type of company, he might have succeeded in keeping his past hidden long enough to demonstrate that he had indeed become a "good person" by managing the company well and making good deals. Unfortunately for him, he was CEO of a company doing facial recognition and security surveillance, and these days, such companies come under special attention, as well they should.

        So basically he was doomed.

        I am willing to believe that he became a better person. You cannot get rid of hate if you cannot forgive those that try to evolve. I hope that his career will survive this debacle somehow.

    4. Bob7300

      This is an interesting and difficult area. We can't really judge as we only have a one page summary, but a few points stuck out for me while forming an opinion, as mentioned by someone else replying to this, one fundamental aspect is proof that they learned.

      1) "Patton had not publicly acknowledged his white supremacist past despite talking extensively about his back story in magazine articles about Banjo’s formation."

      2) "But prosecutors tracked Patton down, and he pleaded guilty to a charge of juvenile delinquency connected to the shooting, giving testimony in order to receive a more lenient sentence. He did not spend any time behind bars while his associates served 27 and 42 months in prison for federal hate crimes."

      From the above, it looks more like he committed a crime, ran, informed on accomplices to avoid jail-time and then proceeded to cover it up.

      I'm not saying he should start every interview with, "I committed a federal hate crime". But he could of mentioned he has had trouble with the law in the past, etc... If he had presented himself as what he is now claiming, "reformed" he would of been in a stronger position when the truth inevitably came out.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "From the above, it looks more like he committed a crime, ran, informed on accomplices to avoid jail-time and then proceeded to cover it up."

        Yup, and at that point you have to start considering what else might be covered up.

        He's running a company in an area which _requires_ transparency and as such not only demonstrates his own unsuitability for the job, the company (plus any more he might "start", join or have worked for) is irretrievably tainted by association to the point that goodwill(*) has instantly been destroyed and the bottom line badly damaged by the disclosure.

        (*) goodwill as an accounting term for an intangible asset - it's usually the single largest intangible a company has on its books and the easiest one to blow

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      The irony in this case is immense

      "That said, how long until you can be considered to be a... better..(?) person than what you had been? Maybe never, though never is a very long time indeed. Sure, this will absolutely depend on what you did. Still, I do find this a really difficult question.""

      CEO of internet scraping surveillance company has his past outed by...erm...internet data scraping. The could hardly be better example of "you reap what you sow".

    6. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      It is difficult, but I think there are degrees of trust and degrees of rehabilitation.

      If someone steals, and serves their time, it may not be unreasonable to not immediately put them in a position of trust. On the other hand, after a period of time with no further convictions, they should end up with as much trust as any other ordinary person -- that is the basis of "spent" convictions and I think it is the right thing to do. I note that even so, there may be some positions which require unusually high levels of trust, and for which special investigations are carried out even of people with no convictions -- in which case the spent conviction may become relevant.

      In this case, the crime seems very severe -- it appears to have only been luck that avoided death or injury -- and so the suspension of trust should be for a considerably longer time. Also, his chosen business area (violating privacy) is one which should require an unusually high level of trust and openness, and in which his earlier crimes are particularly relevant.

      If he wanted to work in this area, and I acknowledge his earlier experience might make him particularly valuable in this area, he would have done better to either choose to acknowledge his earlier crimes and try to convince the world he had reformed (and accept much closer watching of his behaviour and decisions) or take a lower level of responsibility and bring in someone else to lead the company or, at least, approve his decisions (not just offer advice).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        convince the world he had reformed

        The crime was committed while still a juvenile - people can have a partially juvenile mind into middle age (a reason for age limits on positions of seniority in government). One indicator of maturity is suppression of impulse behaviour - not acting on the first thought / urge / emotion that comes to mind, by consciously presenting a personality alter. As a professional you will adapt your actions and behaviour according to learned conventions, then at home you may adopt a different set of behaviour conventions such as being a parent. IMO (unproven), once a person is mature enough to present and maintain an appropriate personality alter, they are unlikely to revert to juvenile / criminal behaviour without some mind altering stimulus. More personality replacement than reform.

        The criteria for most jobs is the ability to do the job, only a small number of jobs affect an organisation's reputation - and if they are, that should be stated in the job description. Lest not forget that many people in senior positions have intentionally caused more harm to others without apparent damage to reputation, from presidents who murder drug dealers to CEOs who's cost saving resulted in environmental destruction (in some cases).

    7. sed gawk Silver badge

      Rehabiliatation is not recommendation

      He *might* be a better person than previously, however he's unsuitable for CEO of a company in the surveillance biz.

      Regardless of his personal journey of redemption, "serious criminality"[1] in the leadership team compromised the company offering and threw up questions about ethics, exposure to vicarious liability.

      [1] Drive by shooting - that's not small beer..

    8. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      My personal opinion is that whilst people can be personally forgiven their pasts, there are still some positions that they should never expect to work in again.

      To give examples, if you were previously caught performing cheque fraud, then you're unlikely to ever be allowed to work in a bank again. If you were previously convicted of being a paedophile, then you're never going to get a job as a kindergarten teacher. And if you were convicted of a hate crime, then maybe just maybe you shouldnt expect to stick around as head of a firm working on AI security, especially since the AI has a definite tendency to be racially biased.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      * Guy joins antisocial group of marginals

      * Guy perpetrates serious crime with said group

      * Guy gets conviction for serious crime

      * Guy starts "crime fighting" company

      * Guy "forgets" to mention something about his past which, in light of the company's line of business, might have been slightly relevant

      IOW, his forgetfulness is not something that happened 30 years ago, it's something that was happening only last week.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > That said, how long until you can be considered to be a... better..(?) person than what you had been?

      Let me quote one of his co-conspirators, from the linked article:

      Armstrong said he’s since renounced his white supremacist beliefs. “I can be remorseful, and I’ve done my time and my penance,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s still there, you know?”

    11. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So where do you draw the line?

      So we're supposed to believe him that this is all he did, and he was never the trigger man in some other murder that the cops never caught him for? Or should we forgive and forget for that too, if it has been long enough?

      No one is saying the guy has no right to live - but that doesn't mean that every possible career and government contracts etc. should help enrich him as if he's never done some seriously wrong things in his past. If someone was a former KKK member, or heck even current KKK member, I don't care if he's working at the Amazon fulfillment center helping deliver my purchases, or works as a roughneck drilling for the oil that will eventually end up in my gas tank. But I sure as hell do care if he's getting rich off my tax dollars! (or would if I was a citizen of Utah)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So where do you draw the line?

        > So we're supposed to believe him that this is all he did, and he was never the trigger man in some other murder that the cops never caught him for? Or should we forgive and forget for that too, if it has been long enough?

        That's a big jump - to assume that he has committed more serious crimes since, based on no evidence whatsoever.

        He was 17 for fuck's sake. And messed-up: what kind of parent allows their kid to join the clan unless they are seriously racist themselves?

      2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: So where do you draw the line?

        So we're supposed to believe him that this is all he did, and he was never the trigger man in some other murder that the cops never caught him for?

        If you believe in "innocent until proven guilty" then; yes.

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