Microsoft Denied a Police Facial Recognition Request

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Microsoft Corp. rejected a California law enforcement agency’s request to install facial recognition technology in officers’ cars and body cameras due to human rights concerns, Reuters reports. Microsoft concluded it would lead to innocent women and minorities being disproportionately held for questioning because the artificial intelligence has been trained on mostly white and male pictures. AI has more cases of mistaken identity with women and minorities, research has found. “Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan” against a database of suspects, Microsoft president Brad Smith said without naming the agency. After thinking through the uneven impact, “we said this technology is not your answer.”

Speaking at a Stanford University conference on “human-centered artificial intelligence,” Smith said Microsoft had declined a deal to install facial recognition on cameras blanketing the capital city of an unnamed country that the nonprofit Freedom House had deemed not free. Smith said it would have suppressed freedom of assembly. Microsoft did agree to provide the technology to an American prison, after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the institution. Smith explained the decisions as part of a commitment to human rights that he said was increasingly critical as technological advances empower governments to conduct blanket surveillance and take other steps that might prove impossible to reverse. Microsoft said in December it would be open about shortcomings in its facial recognition and asked customers to be transparent about how they intended to use it, while stopping short of ruling out sales to police.

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