IBM is dropping facial recognition or analysis software from its portfolio, CEO Arvind Krishna has told the US Congress, saying IBM “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance [and] racial profiling.”
“We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies”, the CEO — who took the helm in April — said in a letter to Congress that IBM published late Monday, June 8.
Krishna is not the first major technology vendor’s leader to express severe misgivings about how facial recognition technology is being used.
Microsoft’s President Brad Smith in late 2018 urged governments to start regulating the technology. As he put it at the time: “The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle.
“Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.”
It was not immediately clear if IBM had dropped the offering from its portfolio for ethical reasons, or because it wasn’t making IBM any money. (IBM had published a “Diversity in Faces” data set of one million faces in January 2019 to train facial recognition AIs on, with the explicit aim of tackling bias.)
Krishna’s letter came as the company provided a detailed set of policy proposals to “advance racial equality in our nation”.
IBM is proposing (among other suggestions) that Congress should “bring more police misconduct cases under federal court purview and should make modifications to the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents individuals from seeking damages when police violate their constitutional rights.”