THAT PANICKED SOUND you're hearing is probably IBM's PR people having a fit as it turns out Big Blue has been touting its facial recognition tech to a country not exactly known for its democracy.
At least that's according to a report by BuzzFeed, which noted that at a government-organised conference on AI in Dubai there were representatives from the likes of IBM, Huawei, Microsoft and others peddling their facial recognition tech to attendees.
And IBM was apparently championing the UAE and other nations in the Persian Gulf as being an exiting market in which to sell such privacy-sapping tech,
This is all eye-brow raising stuff, as facial recognition tech has been facing a backlash in the US recently, as well as being found to be a bit rubbish at effectively spotting crims in London.
So looking to flog it to a nation that has what some have called a dictatorship at its helm and history in violating human rights, is highly questionable.
IBM told BuzzFeed that is has "robust processes in place to ensure potential client engagements are consistent with our values, as well as US and local laws".
But it didn't shed light on how it would prevent a dictatorship from abusing its systems to say spot and lock up dissidents opposing the regime.
Huawei declined to comment in BuzzFeed's report and Microsoft pointed the publication to a blog post it had on wanting action to be taken to regulate facial recognition tech.
One would be forgiven to letting out a heavy 'hmmm', as it's a bit of a juxtaposition to want governments to regulate facial recognition tech yet then be displaying such tech at a conference where representatives from oppressive regimes are milling around.
The UAE currently uses facial recognition systems, such as the Oyoon system used by the Dubai police. But there's no independent auditing process or body in place to monitor such systems for abuse.
While many firms, including IBM, are quick to tout their facial recognition tech as a means for aiding in law enforcement, the tech has problems of bias and falsely flagging innocent people as dodgy types.
That's not great in a happy-clappy democratic nation; it has the potential to be far worse when put to use in a nation that errs close to dictatorship and in nations with a somewhat closed view to human rights.
If we pop our pragmatic cap on for a moment, we can understand that IBM, Huawei and others are businesses looking to rake in money and flogging facial recognition tech to new markets is one way to do that. But at the same time, these companies have a lot of pull and often champion the liberal and moral use of emerging tech.
As such, blabbering on about how AI-based tech can benefit the world then trying to sell it to a dictatorship's law enforcement is rather hypocritical. Then again it's 2019, a year rather full of BS. µ
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