11 December 2018

Microsoft president calls for facial recognition regulation

Microsoft chief calls for new regulation to govern the widespread roll-out of facial recognition technology to avoid bias and discrimination.

Microsoft president Brad Smith, who was speaking at the Brookings' Center for Technology Innovation in Washington DC, said countries around the world are at risk of a ‘race to the bottom’ as companies are forced to choose between being responsible to society or improving their market share.

Genie out of the bottle?

He stated, ‘we believe that the world needs to have confidence that this technology will be used well, that people's rights need to be protected,’ and ‘we also believe that if the world has confidence that people's rights are protected, we will be able to innovate in ways that benefit society.’ According to Mr Smith, Microsoft has turned down projects when it did not believe the technology would be used well, or where it could put other people's lives at risk. He explained,  ‘the data protection genie is just beginning to leave the bottle. We can think thoughtfully as a society and as a planet about how we want this tech to be governed," but ‘if we just sit back and watch and say let's come back to this in some future year, it will be too late.’

Joint report

Researchers at Microsoft, as well as Google, had earlier called for the regulation of ‘oppressive’ facial recognition technology, producing a joint report about artificial intelligence. They said communities should have the right to reject the application of these technologies in public and private contexts. The report states, ‘facial recognition technology poses its own dangers, reinforcing skewed and potentially discriminatory practices, from criminal justice to education to employment, and presents risks to human rights and civil liberties in multiple countries.’ Various government-related applications, from police departments to airports, are now under scrutiny.