Microsoft President Brad Smith is once again calling for government regulation of facial recognition technology.
Smith made the case at this week’s Web Summit conference in Lisbon, sharing the stage with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He noted that facial recognition could soon be used to let retailers identify consumers and their purchase history whenever they enter a store, and went on to suggest that this “pales in comparison” to how the state could use facial recognition for surveillance.
“Before we wake up and find that the year 2024 looks like the book ‘1984’, let’s figure out what kind of world we want to create, and what are the safeguards and what are the limitations of both companies and governments for the use of this technology,” he said.
It’s an echo of concerns Smith raised earlier this year in a Microsoft blog post, which followed Google CEO Sundar Prichai’s publication of clear ethical principles that would govern the latter firm’s work in the related area of artificial intelligence. And it’s a gesture toward a very real possibility, with the Chinese government’s extensive use of facial recognition offering an example of how the technology can enable wide-ranging surveillance and erode citizens’ privacy.
It’s going to take more than a keynote talk to actually deliver the kind of regulation that Smith is calling for, of course, but the fact that such a senior executive at Microsoft is consistently calling for government action could help to actually spur it, especially as a new Congress gets to work.