IBM scraps facial recognition products over racial bias concerns

IBM scraps facial recognition products over racial bias concerns
Facial recognition reconstruction in early research by Yale University. Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

IBM will stop making general-purpose facial recognition technology, the tech company announced, citing concerns over its use for racial profiling and human rights abuses.

In a letter to the US Congress, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna linked the decision to the need for justice and police reform, racial equality and the responsible use of technology to avoid biased policing.

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"IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms," Krishna wrote.

In the letter, IBM said that while facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) could be a "powerful tool" for public safety, a wide dialogue was needed to determine and define their use by law enforcement.

"Vendors and users of AI systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that AI is tested for bias, particularly when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported."

The letter comes as the US enters its third week of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who suffocated to death as a white policeman was filmed kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Floyd's death sparked nationwide unrest and calls for an overhaul of police forces in the face of continuous instances of abuse and brutality against black people and other racial minorities sweep the US into chaos.

The US protests, which began in Minneapolis on 26 May, spread rapidly across the world, galvanizing anti-racist movements and drawing massive crowds to the streets even as public health officials warn of risks linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Belgium, the movement has spurred a wave of anti-racist activism and reignited debates about the country's colonial past, with calls for the removal of monuments honouring colonial exploits gaining traction.

News that murder and manslaughter charges had been brought against the officer involved in the killing of Floyd have also seen many demand justice for people who have died in police intervention in Belgium, including two teens of Moroccan descent in Brussels.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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