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    Tech: Microsoft president calls for government regulation of facial-recognition technology to 'ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel 1984'


    Brad Smith

    Microsoft president Brad Smith warned that if government use of facial-recognition tech wasn't regulated, our future could become Orwellian.

    • Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith advocated in a recent blog post for "government regulation and responsible industry measures" for facial-recognition technology.
    • He also announced a set of principles that Microsoft would adopt for use of its own facial-recognition software, which focused on preventing discrimination and violations of personal freedoms.
    • Smith warned that if the technology wasn't regulated, that we risk becoming a society similar to the one portrayed in George Orwell's "1984."

    Microsoft said Thursday it was adopting a set of ethical principles for the use of its facial recognition technology, and urged the government to follow its lead with regulations barring unlawful discrimination and focusing on transparency.

    In a blog post, Microsoft president Brad Smith pushed for the government, as well as tech companies, to regulate facial-recognition technology and ensure it "creates broad societal benefits while curbing the risk of abuse."

    "The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle," Smith said in the post. "Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues."

    Smith urged regulation of government use that covers three areas: bias and discrimination, people's privacy, and democratic freedoms and human rights. He warned that if government use of facial recognition isn't regulated, society risks a dystopian future straight out of George Orwell's "1984" with Big Brother's ever watchful eye.

    "We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel "1984," Smith said. "Orwell sketched that vision nearly 70 years ago. Today technology makes that type of future possible. But not inevitable."

    Read more: Microsoft's top lawyer says it'll never shy away from providing AI-powered weapons to the US military: 'We at Microsoft have their back'

    Facial-recognition software has become a common feature for consumer products, like Apple's FaceID and Microsoft's Hello. But the artificial intelligence technology has taken on more widespread usage, which top tech companies have come under fire for.

    Amazon's Rekognition software had been criticized by the ACLU for being discriminatory and inaccurate. The Daily Beast reported in October that Amazon had met with officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to discuss their potential use of Rekognition software.

    Google faced backlash from its own employees after the company's tech partnership with the U.S. government came to light. Google eventually shuttered Project Maven and ended its relationship with the military, but other companies have stepped up to replace Google — including Microsoft.

    Just this week, Smith said in an appearance on Fox Busines Network that Microsoft would always supply the U.S. military with "our best technology."

    "This country has always relied on having access to the best technology, certainly the best technology that American companies make," Smith said. "We want this country and we especially want the people who serve this country to know that certainly we at Microsoft have their back."

    In Thursday's blog post, Smith laid out Microsoft's principles for how it would self-govern its facial recognition work. Smith said Microsoft will document the capabilities of the technology, and prohibit its use to engage in unlawful discrimination.

    Microsoft also said it would advocate for "safeguards for people's democratic freedoms" when its technology is used for "law enforcement surveillance scenarios."

    Microsoft said it would formally launch these principles, together with supporting framework, before the end of March 2019, but did not detail how the new principles would be implemented.

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