Turing Award Winner To Amazon: Stop Selling Face ID Tech

Two dozen artificial intelligence (AI) researchers working in tech and academia have sent a letter to Amazon Web Services (AWS), asking for it to stop selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies.

Those who want the tech giant to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement include recent Turing Award winner Yoshua Bengio and CalTech Professor Anima Anandkumar, who is also a former Amazon principal scientist. Researchers in computer visioning and machine learning at Google AI, Microsoft Research and Facebook AI Research also added their names to the letter.

“We call on Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement, as legislation and safeguards to prevent misuse are not in place,” said the letter. “There are no laws or required standards to ensure that Rekognition is used in a manner that does not infringe on civil liberties.”

Furthermore, the letter continued, “decisions from such automated tools may also seem more correct than they actually are, a phenomenon known as ‘automation bias’, or may prematurely limit human-driven critical analyses.”

These researchers aren’t the only ones with concerns about the technology. Late last year, eight members of Congress wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to express concerns about Rekognition. Congress had previously written a letter about the software in July, and said the company “failed to provide sufficient answers.” In May, Democratic Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri also demanded answers from Amazon about the program.

The July letter was written after the American Civil Liberties Union tested the software by scanning the faces of 535 members of Congress against 25,000 publicly available mugshots. The results were not accurate, and the test generated 28 false matches.

“An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom, or even their lives,” Congress said at the time. “Congress must take these threats seriously, hit the brakes and enact a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of [facial] recognition.”


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