IBM 'sunsets' facial recognition software over racial bias concerns

IBM is to 'sunset' its general purpose facial recognition and analysis software products due to concerns around potential racial bias in the context of addressing responsible use of technology by law enforcement.

Chief executive Arvind Krishna sent a letter to the US Congress outlining detailed policy proposals to advance racial equality.

"IBM would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas: police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities," he wrote.

Krishna explained that IBM no longer offers general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, adding that the company "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".

He suggested that now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.
"Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe," Krishna wrote. "But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported."

IBM suggested that national policy in response to the protest over unlawful killing of black citizens, should encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing, such as body cameras and modern data analytics techniques.

The tech giant also proposed more training and education for in-demand skills.

"We need to create more open and equitable pathways for all Americans to acquire marketable skills and training, and the need is particularly acute in communities of colour," Krishna wrote. "At IBM, we see an urgent demand for what we call 'new collar' jobs, which require specialised skills but not necessarily a traditional four-year college degree - such jobs can still be found today in fast-growing fields from cybersecurity to cloud computing."

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