IBM Punts on Facial Recognition – And Why That Is A Mistake

IBM Punts on Facial Recognition – And Why That Is  A Mistake

IBM punts on facial recognition technology because the technology is biased against minorities: “IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software.” Yes, if you feed 100 images into an algorithm, and 90 are oranges while 10 are apples, there is a good likelihood that the algorithm will be biased towards oranges. To fix that work which must naturally happen, if not in this decade, but in future ones, you do not suspend the project. So what do you do? You bring more apples to equilibrate on density and regularity, at parity with oranges. That IBM has a different idea is surprising. Yet, no one says it would be easy.

In a decision which seems to be inspired by the racially-charged protests going on around the world, IBM has announced that it is suspending work on general purpose facial recognition or analysis software.

In a letter sent to congress on Monday, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said the company will no longer pursue facial recognition technology.

“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and principles of Trust and Transparency.

“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,” he said.

IBM should not be made a racial hero because it is stopping facial recognition research. Nonsense! IBM knows what to do – and that thing is this: take 10% of that wasteful $4 billion stock buyback, and send it to minority schools, helping them to deepen their capabilities in science, technology, engineering, and science (STEM). Then take another 5% to support high schools in minority neighborhoods to support STEM. If IBM does it within a decade, facial recognition paralysis will begin to be normalized as those young leaders will contribute in building the tools and technologies in the domain. Sure, IBM is not a charity, and has its priorities. But it must make this a pure-Congress problem. There is something it can do to get other tech companies to take action. A “national dialogue” will not fix the root cause which is lack of representation of minorities in STEM.

IBM is exiting the facial recognition business. The company will no longer offer, develop or research facial recognition software, with its chief calling for a “national dialogue” on whether or how the controversial tech should be used, CNBC reports. Studies have shown that facial recognition technology performs worse at identifying the gender of people with dark faces. IBM’s decision comes as tech companies face increased scrutiny over their contracts with law enforcement agencies amid crackdowns on protests against police racism and brutality across the country.

America did not stop football, baseball, etc because the games were biased in the past against minorities. They simply developed ways to bring minorities into the games. And those men and women competed and the game has gotten better. Evil was that a black man could not play baseball, and freedom was a black man decided that baseball was not his career option

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That is what we need in science. All the noise making on ethics without dealing with the root cause in waste of time. Fund minorities and unleash young minds into STEM; good things will happen. IBM can lead that in tech and mobilize peers to fund STEM programs for minorities.


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One thought on “IBM Punts on Facial Recognition – And Why That Is A Mistake

  1. I agree with you Prof. IBM needs to provide an equal level playing ground. But my opinion is that racism may never be completely stopped in America.

    But progress can be made to alleviate the situation like we are seeing today.

    Racism is not exactly a societal problem. It is a problem of the mind.


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