Clarion Call for improved Facial Recognition
Will IBM, Amazon, Microsoft survive the litmus test?
Since the unfortunate death of George Floyd, the grotesque incident has sparked huge outrage across the globe, predominately in the USA. While it fueled controversies on racism and racial profiling, questions were also raised on the racial bias of the Artificial Intelligence algorithms, particularly in facial recognition tools. Following this, some of the tech giants asked the U.S. Congress not to use their software for the same. However, in the light of the events is this enough?
In a 2019 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it was found that neither of the facial recognition tools from Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM was 100 percent accurate when it came to recognizing men and women with dark skin.
Last Monday, IBM was the first to announce that that will no longer offer its facial recognition or analysis software and firmly opposes technology that is used for mass surveillance, racial profiling, and violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms. This was conveyed to the U.S. Congress through a letter by IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. Later, Amazon followed the path, and two days later, announced in a blog post that it would stop selling its software, Rekognition, to law enforcement for a year with the hope Congress to pass stronger regulation around it. Then Microsoft resident Brad Smith declared to limit the use of its facial-recognition systems in a remote interview with Washington Post Live event Thursday.
While Amazon imposed a time limit when taking any action by Congress shall be challenging given the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Presidential elections, and others, Microsoft decided to wait until there is a federal law regulating it. Smith also added that Microsoft would be putting other “review factors” into place that will govern the use of this technology in “other scenarios.” Meanwhile, Amazon did not comment if other government agencies, such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would be barred from deploying their facial-recognition technology.
Despite such initiatives, critics, often ask why did neither of the tech majors take any precautionary measures to prevent racial biasing beforehand. Moreover, these companies are finding themselves in an array of questions that if the move is superficial or they are looking for bypass ways to make a profit of these situations. This is because there were not any public responses from either company during the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown or Ferguson protests in the past decade. This also includes likes of Apple, Google, and Facebook, whose top influential leaders had condemned the killing of George Floyd or announced donations to fight the racism. No one bothered to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter in 2014.
In an article posted on CNN, the tech industry critics are worried. They believe companies could try to seek the moral high ground on the one hand while simultaneously using their substantial lobbying power to push for light-touch policies that benefit their financial interests. The latter is a major food for thought as companies are aware of the revenue that facial recognition software tools can generate. This is why these enterprises shall turn into the deaf ear in the long run when it comes to societal impacts.
“I think they can undoubtedly make more money with reformed face recognition than banned face recognition,” said Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.
Besides, this latest step also exposes the hypocrisy of tech companies. For instance, Amazon had spent thousands to fight Portland’s proposed ban of Facial recognition even for commercial uses. Microsoft opposed a bill that would have banned facial recognition until critical requirements were met, in Washington state. Even the justice, social, privacy groups know that IBM has been instrumental in promoting the use of this technology by police forces. Therefore the request public not to be fooled by these companies.
“All around the world, they pushed a model or urbanization which relied on CCTV cameras and sensors processed by police forces, thanks to the smart policing platforms IBM was selling them,” says Privacy International’s Eva Blum-Dumontet. She further argues that this is why it is very cynical for IBM to now turn around and claim they want a national dialogue about the use of technology in policing.
There is not a way to be sure if IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft made those announcements in the public interest. However, one thing is sure that a more robust regulatory framework is needed when it comes to the law department employing Facial recognition or similar A.I. tool for monitoring and surveillance purposes. And surely this will take much time since currently Congressmen are inclined to boosting the use of this tech fearing other nations to lead the market for the same, mainly by nations with minimal human rights and civil liberties. Overall this debate was necessary and long overdue by policymakers.