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In Fresh Hell, American Vending Machines are Selling Bullets Using Facial Recognition


Going to the vending machine — do you want something? Soda? Gum? A round or two of bullets?

A growing number of supermarkets in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas are selling bullets by way of AI-powered vending machines, as first reported by Alabama’s Tuscaloosa Thread. The company behind the machines, a Texas-based venture dubbed American Rounds, claims on its website that its dystopian bullet kiosks are outfitted with “built-in AI technology” and “facial recognition software,” which allegedly allow the devices to “meticulously verify the identity and age of each buyer.” As showcased in a promotional video, using one is an astoundingly simple process: walk up to the kiosk, provide identification, and let a camera scan your face. If its embedded facial recognition tech says you are in fact who you say you are, the automated machine coughs up some bullets.

Oh, and these aren’t vending machines, per se. According to American Rounds, these are “smart retail automated ammo dispensers.”

“Our smart retail automated ammo dispensers,” reads the company’s website, “have built-in AI technology, card scanning capability and facial recognition software.” The site adds that American Rounds is “at the cutting edge of retail ammunition technology,” and is “constantly evolving to incorporate the latest advancements in AI and machine learning.”

It’s a bizarre — and uniquely American — twist on the AI-in-everything trend, and an odd new use of controversial surveillance technology by a company with some serious don’t tread on me energy. And though the device raises a number of safety and ethics concerns, most folks’ first question, we presume, is an immediate: why?

According to American Rounds, the main objective is convenience. Its machines are accessible “24/7,” its website reads, “ensuring that you can buy ammunition on your own schedule, free from the constraints of store hours and long lines.”

While this may be an appealing offer to some folks, though, others might argue that bullets are just one of those things that someone should maybe stand in line for. Though it’s incredibly easy to purchase firearms and ammunition in many US states, human employees still retain the right to deny purchases to individuals for any reason (barring discrimination against protected classes, which does happen.) Thus, in instances where a potential buyer appears unstable or unwell, the human middleman with a gut feeling may well be the only obstacle between that buyer and ammo. American Rounds claims that its machine can reliably confirm age and identity. The devices seem ill-equipped, however, to protect against the sale of ammunition to someone in a visibly poor mental state.

American Rounds has also yet to reveal which facial recognition software provider it’s using to power its devices. And to that end, it’s worth noting that facial recognition technology is far from reliable; though the algorithms are generally pretty good at identifying white men under ideal conditions, the tech is well-documented to be demonstrably worse at identifying women and racial minorities.

What’s more, the company has remained pretty vague about its privacy terms. Though American Rounds CEO Grant Magers has stated that the company isn’t selling facial recognition data, there are no terms or privacy agreements available for viewing on the company’s website. And in the multiple available videos of the terminal in action, it doesn’t seem to flash any privacy policy notice or warning. Given that this machine is designed to scan your face and ID while you make a sensitive purchase, that feels like a big deal!

We’ve reached out to American Rounds to inquire about its privacy standards, data practices, and facial recognition software provider, but haven’t received a reply.

As it stands, the legality of the devices remains unclear. Though officials in Tuscaloosa, where two machines have been installed, told the Thread that the devices are in full compliance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ standards, Newsweek notes that at least one of the devices has been taken down amid a Tuscaloosa city council investigation into its legal standing.

“It’s what the founding fathers intended!” Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox joked to the Thread.

Magers, meanwhile, argues that his devices will only help to lower levels of ammunition theft and illegal sale to underage buyers. And according to him? The demand for his bullet ATMs is only climbing.

“We have over 200 store requests for AARM [Automated Ammo Retail Machine] units covering approximately nine states currently,” the CEO told Newsweek, “and that number is growing daily.”

More on AI use cases: Wendy’s Says Its AI Only Screws up 14 Percent of Drive-through Orders




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