How much all-seeing AI surveillance is too much?
05 Jul 2018

AP — When a CIA-backed venture capital fund took an interest in Rana el Kaliouby’s face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, the computer scientist and her colleagues did some soul-searching — and then turned down the money.

“We’re not interested in applications where you’re spying on people,” said el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of the Boston startup Affectiva.

The company has trained its artificial intelligence systems to recognize if individuals are happy or sad, tired or angry, using a photographic repository of more than 6 million faces.

Recent advances in AI-powered computer vision have accelerated the race for self-driving cars and powered the increasingly sophisticated photo-tagging features found on Facebook and Google.

But as these prying AI “eyes” find new applications in store checkout lines, police body cameras and war zones, the tech companies developing them are struggling to balance business opportunities with difficult moral decisions that could turn off customers or their own workers.

El Kaliouby said it’s not hard to imagine using real-time face recognition to pick up on dishonesty — or, in the hands of an authoritarian regime, to monitor reaction to political speech in order to root out dissent.

But the small firm, which spun off from an MIT research lab, has set limits on what it will do.

The company has shunned “any security, airport, even lie detection stuff,” el Kaliouby said. Instead, Affectiva has partnered with automakers trying to help tired-looking drivers stay awake, and with consumer brands that want to know if people respond to a product with joy or disgust.

Such queasiness reflects new qualms about the capabilities and possible abuses of all-seeing, always watching AI camera systems — even as authorities are growing more eager to use them.

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s deadly shooting at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, police said they turned to face recognition to identify the uncooperative suspect.

They did so by tapping a state database that includes mug shots of past arrestees and, more controversially, everyone who registered for a Maryland driver’s license.

Image: By Geralt

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