Ama­zon’s fa­cial recog­ni­tion wrongly IDs NC law­maker, oth­ers

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY RAY GRONBERG rgron­[email protected]­ald­

U.S. Rep. G.K. But­ter­field isn’t a crook, but a fa­cial-recog­ni­tion sys­tem Ama­zon is mar­ket­ing to po­lice and other groups seems to think he is.

But­ter­field, the 71-yearold Wil­son Demo­crat who rep­re­sents North Carolina’s 1st Con­gres­sional District, was one of 28 U.S. sen­a­tors and House mem­bers the soft­ware in­cor­rectly matched with crim­i­nal mugshots in a test run by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

The false­matches in the set “were dis­pro­por­tion­ately of peo­ple of color” and show why there should be “a mora­to­rium on law en­force­ment use of face sur­veil­lance,” the group said in a state­ment on its web­site.

On Friday, But­ter­field said he’s “trou­bled by the in­ac­cu­rate out­comes as­so­ci­ated with this tech­nol­ogy, as there are clear blind spots that will have un­in­tended con­se­quences specif­i­cally for peo­ple of color.”

“While this tech­nol­ogy could have far-reach­ing eco­nomic po­ten­tial, I en­cour­age Ama­zon to bet­ter train its users on best prac­tices for us­ing this tech­nol­ogy, be open and up­front about its lim­i­ta­tions, and hire more em­ploy­ees of color who can prop­erly as­sist with ad­dress­ing the de­fects of this tech­nol­ogy,” he said.

But­ter­field is amem­ber of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, whose­mem­bers on May 24 wrote Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos to say they were “trou­bled by the pro­found un­in­tended con­se­quences this form of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence could have for African-Amer­i­cans, un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and pro­tes­tors.”

The cau­cus let­ter, is­sued over the sig­na­ture of chair­man, U.S. Rep. Cedric Rich­mond, D-Louisiana, sought “a sub­stan­tive dia­logue” with Ama­zon of­fi­cials and asked Be­zos to see to it Ama­zon hires “more lawyers, en­gi­neers and data sci­en­tists of color to as­sist in prop­erly cal­i­brat­ing this tech­nol­ogy to ac­count for racial bias that can lead to in­ac­cu­ra­cies with dev­as­tat­ing out­comes.”

Fa­cial-recog­ni­tion soft­ware is a form of ma­chine learn­ing that in the­ory can al­low users to put names with faces or match old pho­tos to new ones. Ama­zon calls its ver­sion of the tech­nol­ogy “Rekog­ni­tion” and of­fers it through its cloud-com­put­ing ser­vice, Ama­zon Web Ser­vices.

It claims the sys­tem can pro­vide “highly ac­cu­rate fa­cial anal­y­sis and fa­cial recog­ni­tion on images and video” users sup­ply.

The ACLU of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia says it put that to the test by cre­at­ing a data­base of 25,000 pub­licly avail­able ar­rest pho­tos, and com­par­ing it to the pub­lic pho­tos of the coun­try’s 535 sen­a­tors and House mem­bers. It used the de­fault set­tings and paid Ama­zon $12.33 to run the com­par­i­son.

The en­su­ing false pos­i­tives in­cluded three sen­a­tors and 25 House mem- bers. The group was bi­par­ti­san, mul­tira­cial and gen­der-in­clu­sive.

An Ama­zon Web Ser­vices spokes­woman, Nina Lind­sey, told The New York Times the Rekog­ni­tion ser­vice’s de­fault re­ports am­atch if it has 80 per­cent con­fi­dence that two images are alike. Ama­zon rec­om­mends that po­lice de­part­ments use a higher thresh­old, 95 per­cent, in their work.

The com­pany’s gen­eral man­ager for AI, Matt Wood, in a June 1 blog post said there has been “no re­ported law-en­force­ment abuse” of the sys­tem.

“We be­lieve it is the wrong ap­proach to im­pose a ban on promis­ing new tech­nolo­gies be­cause they might be used by bad ac­tors for ne­far­i­ous pur­poses in the fu­ture,” he said. “The world would be a very dif­fer­ent place if we had re­stricted peo­ple from buy­ing com­put­ers be­cause it was pos­si­ble to use that com­puter to do harm.”

But at least three of But­ter­field’s falsely-iden­ti­fied col­leagues weren’t amused. Led by U.S. Sen. Ed­wardMarkey, D-Mas­sachusetts, they wrote Be­zos on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, to say the in­ci­dent raises “se­ri­ous ques­tions re­gard­ing whether Ama­zon should be sell­ing its tech­nol­ogy to law en­force­ment at this time.”

Their let­ter asked Ama­zon to sup­ply Congress more in­for­ma­tion about the sys­tem and its uses by po­lice, start­ing with the re­sults of “any in­ter­nal ac­cu­racy or bias as­sess­ments that Ama­zon has per­formed on Rekog­ni­tion.”

But­ter­field has rep­re­sented the 1st District since 2004, and be­fore that was a Su­pe­rior Court judge and a N.C. Supreme Court jus­tice. He is a two-time N.C. Cen­tral Univer­sity grad­u­ate.

The 1st District now cov­er­smost of Durham County and much of the north­east­ern part of North Carolina.

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