IBM backs out from facial recognition business over concerns of racial and ethnic bias

Image via OLCF

In a letter to Congress on late Monday, IBM announced that it would no longer sell facial recognition services. CEO Arvind Krishna penned the letter and called for a national dialogue on whether the technique should be employed by law enforcement agencies altogether. Krishna also showed support for the Justice in Policing Act that is aimed at curbing police violence.

“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, 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.”

Privacy concerns have almost always gone hand in hand with the development of facial recognition systems. On the most basic level, people have questioned whether the datasets used to train machine learning models are free from any underlying prejudice. This inherent bias is often caused by the discrepancy and variation in the data collected between racial and ethnic groups.

“Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe. But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularly when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported.”

IBM's announcement and its direct reference to the use of these systems by the law enforcement agencies come at a time when protests calling out racism and police brutality have sprung up worldwide following the death of an African-American man George Floyd in police custody. However, the decision might be impacted by monetary aspects as well.

Image via Al Jazeera

The firm's facial recognition business did not generate significant revenue for the company, as CNBC stated, citing a person familiar with the situation. The tech giant has lately been focusing a sizeable portion of its resources on developing its cloud computing and quantum computing services as well. Taking a cue from this, it is quite likely that IBM's decision to back out from facial recognition services might be rooted in business and ethical considerations simultaneously.

Source: CNBC

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