Microsoft Calls For Federal Regulation Of Facial Recognition AI Tech

Facial recognition offers a wealth of uses, from allowing us to unlock our phones quicker to smartly cataloging our photos. With most cool tech, though, there's a lot of room for ill use, and that's a reality not lost on Microsoft. In its latest corporate blog post, the company starts off with a humorous analogy: "All tools can be used for good or ill. Even a broom can be used to sweep the floor or hit someone over the head." The post becomes more serious from that point on.

From the get-go, Microsoft touts facial recognition for having uses that enrich our lives. Facebook and Microsoft use facial recognition to detect who's who in a picture. Facebook in particular has had the functionality for years now that will automatically suggest tagging a friend, simply based on the AI's knowledge of that person. It's eerie, but again, quite useful for those who want to take advantage.

NN Facial Recognition
Neural networks can gather mass amounts of face data, very quickly

It's important to talk also about the greatest uses for facial recognition tech, which would include locating a missing person, or in a provided example, help "the police to identify a terrorist bent on destruction as he walks into the arena where you’re attending a sporting event." But, and there's always a "but", Microsoft finishes the paragraph drawing parallels to science fiction title 1984, one that's pretty accurately painted a picture of what the current technological and civic monitoring landscape would look like. "Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge."

The ultimate question we must ask ourselves is: do we really want this level of facial recognition to permeate throughout our lives? It can, of course, in a perfect world, be done without any issue. But Microsoft is calling for the regulation of what can be done with this data, and even how it's gathered. There are complaints that facial recognition, as good as it is, is not good enough. White persons are detected more accurately than people of color, for example, and while progress has been made (and the tech will obviously get better), we're still not quite there yet.

Microsoft believes that the only way we can have a safe facial recognizable future is to have the government step in and "proactively" manage its uses. In the very long blog post, many questions are asked about what would happen if facial recognition was used for an important matter - not something as trivial as monitoring city trash bins to take a guess as to when they're full.

Facial Recognition System
Facial recognition system in Europe

One question is: "Should we create processes that afford legal rights to individuals who believe they have been misidentified by a facial recognition system?" People are already misidentified all of the time, something that's expected on a planet with so many people. The risk of facial recognition detecting someone incorrectly is all too great.

Microsoft also used this blog post as an opportunity to talk about its contract with the US government, and in particular, its ICE agency, which has been a recent hot topic. Many thought that this contract involved facial recognition, but Microsoft confirms that it does not. Instead, it involves "legacy email, calendar, messaging and document management workloads." Based on the wording, this contract isn't going to melt as the result of public outcry.

What do you guys think? Should the government step in and regulate facial recognition? Are you yourself worried about the ill effects that could come from the technology?

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