Excursions by Amit Gawande

Face recognition, bad people and bad data

We worry about face recognition just as we worried about databases - we worry what happens if they contain bad data and we worry what bad people might do with them.

A great post by Benedict Evans where he compares our fears around usage of facial recognition technology, and in extension the AI and data hoarding, to the fears we had when data gathering and analysis capabilities of databases was being introduced. Some comparisons are indeed apt. And some fears, of course misguided and misplaced.

Gathering data inherently isn’t bad — it is the fact that it enables bad people to use it in bad manner that everyone knowledgeable worries about. So, the call for regulating the usage of the data isn’t unjustified. However, the exaggerated and far-fetched fall-outs of data misuses, and the recent own goals by the big corps, like Facebook, Google and others, are just making regulators around the world shoot for the easiest target out there — their ability to collect data.

The challenge here, I think, is to work out the right level of abstraction. When Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme imploded, we didn’t say that Excel needed tighter regulation or that his landlord should have spotted what he was doing - the right layer to intervene was within financial services. Equally, we regulate financial services, but mortgages, credit cards, the stock market and retail banks’ capital requirements are all handled very separately. A law that tries to regulate using your face to unlock your phone, or turn yourself into a kitten, and also a system for spotting loyalty-card holders in a supermarket, and to determine where the police can use cameras and how they can store data, is unlikely to be very effective.

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