Microsoft President Brad Smith is optimistic about the potential of facial recognition technology to solve a range of societal issues, like finding missing children and diagnosing diseases. But he also has serious concerns about a future in which facial recognition spreads without strong regulations.
Smith outlined his fears during a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. Thursday.
“Technology is making possible a new type of mass surveillance,” he said. “It is becoming possible for the state, for a government, to follow anyone anywhere. It’s making it impossible for the government or state to follow everyone everywhere.”
Smith raised three key concerns about the future of facial recognition. The technology has the potential to amplify bias against women and people of color. It can lead to invasions of privacy and, critically, it allows governments to monitor citizens in ways never before seen.
“The future I just described has been written about,” Smith said. “It was almost 70 years ago that it was addressed by George Orwell and he painted a picture of Big Brother watching our every move.”
Microsoft is calling for the federal government to enact laws governing facial recognition technology that focus on issues like consent, third-party testing, fairness, and privacy to avoid a future “with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success.”
“If we fail to think these things through, we run the risk that we’re going to suddenly find ourselves in the year 2024 and our lives are going to look a little too much like they came out of the book ‘1984,’” Smith said.
But the onus isn’t simply on regulators and law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union has repeatedly raised concerns about lawful implementations of facial recognition technology, calling out Amazon’s software in particular.
Smith wants to see tech companies proactively adopting policies that prohibit abuse of the technology and he hopes to hold Microsoft up as an example. On Thursday, the Redmond, Wash., company announced it will adopt six principles for its facial recognition software: fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance. During his remarks, Smith said Microsoft has turned down several deals because the company was concerned about how the technology would be implemented.
“The world will get better if people can put this technology to work but there are new risks and new challenges so, once again, we should think about the world we want to create before we move forward,” he said.