Microsoft president Brad Smith has written an extensive blog post calling for public regulation and corporate responsibility in relation to artificial intelligence.
"Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act."
In the post, Smith urges both private companies and governments to step up and address the potential human rights problems that facial recognition technology presents.
“In a democratic republic, there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms. Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act,” he says.
Microsoft criticized for connection to ICE
The extensive post comes after Microsoft was heavily criticized for a contract they maintain with the US’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. In June images of children being forcibly separated from their children at the US-Mexico border flooded news outlets as the President of the US, Donald Trump pushed a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for families trying to cross the border without legal paperwork.
Microsoft unexpectedly was thrown into this legal debacle, when a company blog post from January was tweeted and shared. The post discussed some details of a contract Microsoft has with ICE and included a sentence about the potential for ICE to use facial recognition.
Observers called for Microsoft to cancel their contract with ICE horrified Microsoft may in some way be enabling immigrants to be tracked without permission by government authorities. The tech giant has since confirmed that the contract discussed does not include the use of facial recognition.
It also explained that Microsoft was not actively assisting ICE authorities to separate children at the border in any way.
Facial recognition software rapidly developing thanks to large data sets
Facial recognition technology is rapidly improving. These improvements are thanks to a combination of better camera technology, sensors, and machine learning. It is also aided by the arrival of larger datasets as more and more images of people are stored online.
Thrown in the ability of the cloud to connect these data sets and facial technology with cameras that can recognize faces and identify them in real time is born. This technology can have brilliant applications such as assisting looking for missing persons helping police track criminals or aiding people with vision impairments.
"Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge."
On the other hand, the technology poses huge risks if not used responsibly. Smith gives examples such as misuse by governments or corporations. “Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge. Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy, without asking you first,” he writes.
Many common products are already embedded with the technology
Microsoft has facial recognition technology embedded into many of their products as a way to identify and unlock devices. The blog post titles ‘Facial recognition technology: The need for public regulation and corporate responsibility’ outlines what it sees as the responsibility of tech companies to ensure good regulation by government.
Smith urges companies to take a positive approach to the technology and be ready to work with administrators to develop regulations around facial recognition technology that both respects human rights and lets the sector develop. Microsoft says this will require governments to take a long-term view of the technology and implement a policy that outlasts their own administration.