Facial Recognition Technology Is a Burgeoning Threat to Freedom, AI Report Says

If you thought the face of AI oppression was going to take the form of robots going down the street killing people (as Elon Musk warned), think again. As AI permeates more and more technologies and industries, there’s a rapidly growing acceptance that artificial intelligence will soon be woven into the fabric of everyday society, including surveillance and security. According to a recent report by the AI Now Institute, one of the biggest threats to individual privacy and freedom will be AI-powered face and “affect” recognition.

Part of the report is spurred by the growing use of AI-backed surveillance in China, which ranges from gait recognition technology to picking someone out of a crowd based on their height, gender, and shirt color. Paired with the rise of a society-wide “social credit” system, the combination of constant surveillance and government sanctions on citizens seems to represent the blueprint for a new type of high-tech authoritarian society. Here’s how the report describes it:

“In China, military and state-sanctioned automated surveillance technology is being deployed to monitor large portions of the population…Reports include installation of facial recognition tools at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border, using flocks of robotic dove-like drones in five provinces across the country, and the widely reported social credit monitoring system, each of which illustrates how AI-enhanced surveillance systems can be mobilized as a means of far-reaching social control.”

As similar systems mature in the US, the Institute fears that lack of regulation will cause the proliferation of AI-based facial recognition technology and threaten civil liberties. They’re also concerned about the accountability of the organizations that use AI surveillance and technology—#1 on their list of ‘key issues’ is “The growing accountability gap in AI, which favors those who create and deploy these technologies at the expense of those most affected.”

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Microsoft president Brad Smith echoed these fears: “We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology. 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.”

Considering the recent scandal involving Google’s collection and use of geo-location data from smart phones, it’s becoming clearer that without pushback, corporations and governments may soon have the ability to track the movements and collect the identities of millions of people, effectively ending the individual right to privacy and enabling greater control over (and knowledge of) people’s everyday lives.