Microsoft's facial-recognition technology is getting smarter at recognizing people with darker skin tones. On Tuesday, the company touted the progress, though it comes amid growing worries that these technologies will enable surveillance against people of color. Microsoft's announcement didn't broach the concerns; the company merely addressed how its facial-recognition tech could misidentify both men and women with darker skin tones. Microsoft has recently reduced the system's error rates by up to 20 times. In February, research from MIT and Stanford University highlighted how facial-recognition technologies can be built with bias.
Imagine a world in which you can scan your face to board a train, check into a hotel, order a meal at a café, or even track your food from farm to table. In China, all of this is already happening. Facial recognition became more pervasive this year after the Chinese government in December 2017 announced an ambitious plan to achieve greater face-reading accuracy by 2020. The country also plans to introduce a system that will identify any of its 1.3 billion citizens in just three seconds. Public and private enterprises have rushed to adopt the futuristic, artificial intelligence-powered technology, implementing facial-recognition systems in transportation networks, medical facilities, and law enforcement initiatives.
The researchers have shown how it's possible to perturb facial recognition with patterned eyeglass frames. Researchers have developed patterned eyeglass frames that can trick facial-recognition algorithms into seeing someone else's face. The printed frames allowed three researchers from Carnegie Mellon to successfully dodge a facial-recognition system based on machine-learning 80 percent of the time. Using certain variants of the frames, a white male was also able to fool the algorithm into mistaking him for movie actress Milla Jovovich, while a South-Asian female tricked it into seeing a Middle Eastern male. A look at some of the best IoT and smart city projects which aim to make the lives of citizens better.
Microsoft president Brad Smith has called on governments around the world to immediately start work on adopting laws to regulate facial-recognition technology. It's not often that companies that stand to gain from a technology call for new laws that might constrain them. But Smith is worried enough about the spread of surveillance systems with powerful facial recognition that he's calling for lawmakers to act now. Tech companies are faced with a "commercial race to the bottom", which should have a "floor of responsibility" that allows competition but outlaws the use of facial recognition in ways that harm democratic freedom or enable discrimination. The call to action comes as China increasingly adopts facial recognition to monitor public spaces.