IBM is getting out of facial recognition. The technology giant has announced that it will no longer be selling general purpose facial recognition software, and will instead focus on police reform while working to reduce racial inequality in America.
The decision is a response to the anti-police brutality demonstrations that have swept the country after the police killing of George Floyd. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna advocated for police reform in a letter to Congress, urging them to pass legislation that would make police officers more accountable to the communities they serve. Recommendations include more stringent use-of-force policies, as well as the creation of a federal database that records incidents of police misconduct and the use of deadly force. IBM is also asking Congress to relax qualified immunity laws to allow citizens to seek damages if the police violate their civil rights.
However, the end of the company’s facial recognition program is a much more direct response to the protests. Krishna pointed out that facial recognition often perpetuates racial bias. The company could therefore not support the use of technology that would enable mass surveillance and lead to the violation of basic human rights. IBM instead called for a dialogue about the responsible use of facial recognition, and insisted that any solutions be thoroughly tested to eliminate bias before being deployed.
IBM also emphasized the importance of education, and asked Congress to fund programs that would help people in Black communities develop marketable skills for the current economy.
In 2018, IBM created a massive public database in the hopes that it would be used to eliminate racial bias in facial recognition systems. The company’s latest action suggests that it is not yet satisfied with the results, and that a more careful approach will be required when using the technology. In that regard, Washington state recently became the first such U.S. jurisdiction to place restrictions on the police use of facial recognition.
June 9, 2020 – by Eric Weiss