IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced today that the company would no longer sell facial recognition services and called for a “national dialogue” on whether it should be used at all. He also advocated a new bill that aims to reduce police violence and increase accountability.
In a letter reported by CNBC in support of today’s law on justice in policing, Krishna explains the company’s exit from the controversial face identification business as a service.
IBM strongly discourages and will not tolerate the use of technologies, including third party facial recognition technologies, for mass surveillance, racial profiles, violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, or for purposes that do not conform to our values and principles of trust and transparency. We believe it is now time to start a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technologies should be used by national law enforcement agencies.
This careful approach to developing and deploying the technology is not new: IBM underlined it last year with a new database of facial data that was more diverse than anything available at the time. After all, like any program, these systems are only as good as the information you put into them.
However, face recognition doesn’t seem to have brought the company much money, if at all. To be fair, technology is still in its infancy and there are few applications where a business provider like IBM makes sense. Amazon’s controversial detection service has been tested by some law enforcement agencies but is not well thought out in this area. It wouldn’t do much good for IBM to try to compete with a product that is hardly good enough to use.
Krishna’s letter also states that “Al system vendors and users have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, especially when used by law enforcement agencies, and that such bias tests are tested and reported.” This is a kind of farewell shot for those in the field, especially Amazon, who have been called because of the poor quality of facial recognition systems but have not stopped marketing them.
The draft law that Krishna writes in support has dozens of co-sponsors in the House and Senate and addresses a variety of issues that police and police officers face. Among other things, it extends the requirements for body cameras but limits the use of face recognition in conjunction with them. It would provide grants for the hardware, but only if used under publicly developed and listed protocols.
In a statement on the draft law, the ACLU appeared to be in line with its approach: “We need to invest in technologies that can help eliminate the digital divide, not in technologies that create surveillance infrastructure that aggravates police abuse and structural racism.”