IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has written Congress to inform them the company no longer offers general purpose facial recognition and analysis software.
Krishna wrote the letter in the context of responsible use of technology, such as facial recognition, on the part of law enforcement. The letter is a direct response to the death of George Floyd and others, as well as the accusations of police brutality that have led to mass protests. Channeling IBM’s long history of support for civil rights, Krishna cited the letter Thomas J. Watson, Jr., then president of IBM, sent to employees in 1953, vowing to hire individuals who were qualified, “regardless of race, color or creed.”
Krishna encourages Congress to enact laws to tackle police misconduct, including a federal registry that would track instances. The letter also asks Congress to review and revisit use-of-force policies, as well as the qualified immunity police officers enjoy.
The letter also makes clear that IBM will do its part to prevent its technology from being used in a way that is inconsistent with the company’s values. Krishna writes:
IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. 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.
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, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported.
Finally, national policy also 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 move is a bold one for IBM, as facial recognition is already proving to be a valuable technology. In the wake of recent events, however, it’s likely IBM won’t be the only company to take such a stand.