AI and Facial Recognition

AI in Congress

Politico reports on two separate bills introduced Thursday, June 2. (See the section entitled “Artificial Intelligence: Let’s Do the Thing”.)

The National AI Research Resource Task Force Act. “The bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, (D-Calif.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), along with companion legislation by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Martin Heinrich(D-N.M.), would form a committee to figure out how to launch and best use a national AI research cloud. Public and private researchers and developers from across the country would share this cloud to combine their data, computing power and other resources on AI. The panel would include experts from government, academia and the private sector.”

The Advancing Artificial Intelligence Research Act. “The bipartisan bill introduced by Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a founding member of the Senate AI Caucus, would create a program to accelerate research and development of guidance around AI at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It would also create at least a half-dozen AI research institutes to examine the benefits and challenges of the emerging technology and how it can be deployed; provide funding to universities and nonprofits researching AI; and launch a pilot at the National Science Foundation for AI research grants.”

Concerns About Facial Recognition (FR): Discrimination, Privacy, and Democratic Freedom

While including ethical and moral issues, a broader list of issues is concerning to citizens and policymakers about face recognition technology and AI. Areas of concerns include accuracy; surveillance; data storage, permissions, and access; discrimination, fairness, and bias; privacy and video recording without consent; democratic freedoms, including right to choose, gather, and speak; and abuse of technology such as non-intended uses, hacking, and deep fakes. Used responsibly and ethically, face recognition can be valuable for finding missing people, responsible policing and law enforcement, medical uses, healthcare, virus tracking, legal system and court uses, and advertising. Various guidelines by organizations such as the AMA and legislation like S.3284 – Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act are being developed to encourage the proper use of AI and face recognition.

Some of the above issues do specifically require ethical analysis as in the following by Yaroslav Kuflinski:

Accuracy — FR systems naturally discriminate against non-whites, women, and children, presenting errors of up to 35% for non-white women.

Surveillance issues — concerns about “big brother” watching society.

Data storage — use of images for future purposes stored alongside genuine criminals.

Finding missing people — breaches of the right to a private life.

Advertising — invasion of privacy by displaying information and preferences that a buyer would prefer to keep secret.

Studies of commercial systems are increasingly available, for example an analysis of Amazon Rekognition.

Biases deriving from sources of unfairness and discrimination in machine learning have been identified in two areas: the data and the algorithms.  Biases in data skew what is learned in machine learning methods, and flaws in algorithms can lead to unfair decisions even when the data is unbiased. Intentional or unintentional biases can exist in the data used to train FR systems.

New human-centered design approaches seek to provide intentional system development steps and processes in collecting data and creating high quality databases, including the elimination of naturally occurring bias reflected in data about real people.

Bias That Pertains Especially to Facial Recognition (Mehrabi, et al. and Barocas, et al.)

Direct Discrimination: “Direct discrimination happens when protected attributes of individuals explicitly result in non-favorable outcomes toward them”.  Some traits like race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, disability, exercised rights under CCPA , marital status, receipt of public assistance, and age are identified as sensitive attributes or protected attributes in the machine learning world.                       

Indirect Discrimination: Even if sensitive or protected attributes are not used against an individual, indirect discrimination can still happen. For example, residential zip code is not categorized as a protected attribute, but from the zip code one might infer race, which is a protected attribute. So, “protected groups or individuals still can get treated unjustly as a result of implicit effects from their protected attributes”.

Systemic Discrimination: “policies, customs, or behaviors that are a part of the culture or structure of an organization that may perpetuate discrimination against certain subgroups of the population”.

Statistical Discrimination: In law enforcement, racial profiling is an example of statistical discrimination. In this case, minority drivers are pulled over more than compared to white drivers — “statistical discrimination is a phenomenon where decision-makers use average group statistics to judge an individual belonging to that group.”

Explainable Discrimination: In some cases, discrimination can be explained using attributes like working hours and education, which is legal and acceptable. In “the UCI Adult dataset [6], a widely-used dataset in the fairness domain, males on average have a higher annual income than females; however, this is because on average females work fewer hours than males per week. Work hours per week is an attribute that can be used to explain low income. If we make decisions without considering working hours such that males and females end up averaging the same income, we could lead to reverse discrimination since we would cause male employees to get lower salary than females.                             

Unexplainable Discrimination: This type of discrimination is not legal as explainable discrimination because “the discrimination toward a group is unjustified”.

How to Discuss Facial Recognition

Recent controversies about FR mix technology issues with ethical imperatives and ignore that people can disagree on which are the “correct” ethical principles. A recent ACM tweet on FR and face masks was interpreted in different ways and ACM issued an official clarification. A question that emerges is if AI and other technologies should be, and can be, banned rather than controlled and regulated.

In early June, 2020, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress that IBM is exiting the facial recognition business and asking for reforms to combat racism: “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,” Krishna said in his letter to members of congress, “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.”

The guest co-author of this series of blog posts on AI and bias is Farhana Faruqe, doctoral student in the George Washington University Human-Technology Collaboration program.

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