How Microsoft Is Sparking a Crucial Conversation on Facial Recognition Technology

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

On issues like this, companies should develop clear industry standards and metrics consistent with human rights principles.

By Michael Posner

This morning Microsoft President Brad Smith posted an essay on the company’s blog that raises important questions about the human rights challenges related to facial recognition technology. Microsoft, and in particular, Smith, have led the tech industry in addressing human rights issues that inevitably grow from the spreading use of emerging technologies. As Smith points out, these new technological capacities are often a force for good, but are also subject to manipulation and can cause great harm. What is clear is that these new technologies are now part of our lives and will play an ever-greater role in the future. Smith rightly focuses on vexing challenges relating to the governance of facial recognition technologies, a rapidly evolving area which requires new models in which both governments and companies assume greater responsibilities.

Smith’s blog stresses the need for greater governmental engagement and oversight. He correctly argues that governments should develop appropriate laws and regulatory models that protect privacy, account for bias and prevent misapplication of technologies like facial recognition. But we must be mindful that too often governments themselves misuse these technologies, especially in the areas of security and law enforcement. In these politically polarized times in the U.S., Smith calls for the creation of an independent commission of experts to help frame the agenda and make informed recommendations. Though not a panacea, this type of independent expert engagement will be critically important.

Microsoft acknowledges that tech companies need to do more as well. As one example, Smith cites the bias in current technologies, which are more accurate in identifying white men than either women or people of color. This reflects the fact that most of those who develop code for these technologies are themselves white men. As Smith rightly states, it’s incumbent on the companies to correct this bias by hiring a more diverse workforce that reflects the communities they serve.

Read the full Forbes article.

Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.