The potential uses for AI are vast with Google already applying it to consumer products and services for third-party developers. These APIs include natural language processing, TTS, and image recognition. However, unlike other companies, Google does not offer facial recognition technology and that absence is on purpose.
In a blog post today discussing a new AI for Social Good initiative in Asia Pacific, Google revealed that it has “chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions.” Namely, face recognition raises serious questions about privacy and enabling mass surveillance.
Penned by senior vice president of Global Affairs Kent Walker, Google notes its commitment to the “responsible development of AI.” In light of Project Maven with the U.S. Department of Defense, Google backed away from the military drone project and published ethical AI principles that prohibit weapons and surveillance usage, which face recognition falls under.
However, like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement in support of today’s development from Google:
This is a strong first step. Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and ICE, it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities. Google also made clear that all companies must stop ignoring the grave harms these surveillance technologies pose to immigrants and people of color, and to our freedom to live our lives, visit a church, or participate in a protest without being tracked by the government.
Google Cloud does offer computer vision products today that can classify images into thousands of categories, as well as identify printed words, individual objects, and faces within images. Meanwhile, Firebase’s ML Kit has face detection features in beta that work to recognize facial features and expressions, but not necessarily keep a record of them for long-term identification.
For example, Microsoft touts how its Face AI “enables you to search, identify, and match faces in your private repository of up to 1 million people.” A part of Azure, it works to “identify previously tagged people in images.”
Meanwhile, Amazon’s competing service is called Rekognition. Microsoft in recent months has been criticized for contracts that the company is undertaking with authorities, with Amazon expressing similar interest.
Amazon Rekognition also provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition on images and video that you provide. You can detect, analyze, and compare faces for a wide variety of user verification, people counting, and public safety use cases.
Google does note the positive advantages to facial recognition, including assistive technology and helping find missing persons. The company did not specify what policy developments it is waiting on, but possible solutions could involve legislation on the national-level to regulate usage of facial recognition technology.
As one example, facial recognition technology has benefits in areas like new assistive technologies and tools to help find missing persons, with more promising applications on the horizon.