We always think of Amazon as the ultimate retail store. Anything in the world you want to buy, Amazon has it and they’ll get it to your door in two days. But, of course, they’re more than that. Now they are a device maker with tablets and Amazon Echo devices amid a variety of other things they do. And remember, they started as a mere online bookstore.
What you probably did not realize is Amazon has sophisticated facial recognition software and they want to sell it to the US government. This has caused a bit of an uproar among Amazon employees, but it looks like they’re pushing on anyway. Government contracts are lucrative. Specifically, Amazon is talking to ICE for the use of their software for the undocumented immigrant crackdown currently going on.
Regardless of how you feel politically about the treatment of immigrants and other minorities, the implications of this tech in government hands is troubling. Imagine real-time facial recognition blanketing the country. Oh sure, it’s for catching the bad guys, no need to worry. Catching bad guys is good, but what price are we willing to pay? Near universal surveillance is a massive intrusion of personal privacy, especially by the government. Technology is moving too fast for us to be able to stop and think where we would like to draw a line.
Making matters worse, Amazon is only one player. Google has this tech as does Facebook. Facebook! How trustworthy have they been lately? Connect all the dots between facial recognition, AI and the Internet of Things and you have a future that could be scary. We live in a time when we assume technology is always good but there are real downsides and unintended consequences. Already data suggests facial recognition technology is more likely to identify a person of color as a “target”. As I said, things are moving so fast we barely have the time to consider these things. The companies inventing this stuff don’t care, it’s a race to the cash.
So we can’t trust the corporations. Can’t trust the government as their agencies are the ones who want this power and none of them understand this technology anyway. It’s going to have to come from the people. Somehow we are going to have become more informed and concerned enough to demand we not implement technology, especially by the government on a wide scale without proper thought and input by external experts. Part of the problem is these deals between tech companies and the government go down and few people notice. Witness what Google was/is doing with AI to improve drone targeting and automation on the battlefield. Some Google employees caused a ruckus and Google seemed to indicate maybe the program would end, but now no one is quite sure what the stats is.
Artificial intelligence, facial recognition, drones, the Internet of Things. These are cool technologies that could provide us with real benefits but they also have unintended consequences. We need to stay alert to make sure we are getting the benefits and not the downsides.