Skip to main content

'1984' in 2024: Microsoft President's Dire Facial Recognition Warning

Microsoft President Brad Smith warned this week that if governments don’t rein in on the public use of facial recognition software, the year 2024 could become as dystopian as the fictional year 1984 from the George Orwell novel, 1984.

Perils of Facial Recognition

Technology companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, as well as multiple start-ups have already started to deploy facial recognition software for uses that may seem more or less harmless at the moment: photo tagging, face filters and Face ID-like biometric systems to unlock devices.

However, as reported by Recode, during the Web Summit tech conference in Portugal Smith warned that in the future, the uses of facial recognition software could be much less harmless. He pointed out that retailers, for instance, will be able to track every move a customer makes within the store, including what goods they picked up, what they purchased and when they were there last. However, even that will be nothing in comparison to the future surveillance capabilities of governments.

“For the first time, the world is on the threshold of technology that would give a government the ability to follow anyone anywhere and everyone everywhere. It could know exactly where you are going, where you have been and where you were yesterday as well. And this has profound potential ramifications for even just the fundamental civil liberties on which democratic societies rely," Smith said. 

"Before we wake up and find that the year 2024 looks like the book 1984, let’s figure out what kind of world we want to create, and what are the safeguards and what are the limitations of both companies and governments for the use of this technology.”

Smith: Regulation Is Necessary

Earlier this year, Smith called for governments to regulate the use of facial recognition technology so that user’s rights aren’t constantly violated in the future by corporations and government agencies.

What makes things worse is that the technology itself is still biased and far from perfect. There have been reports of Amazon Rekognition and London police’s facial recognition technology being imperfect, to say the least. However, despite these significant error rates, law enforcement agencies continue deployment, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also started encouraging airlines to adopt facial recognition software at airports

This could put innocent people in situations where authorities might confuse them for armed and dangerous criminals just because of an erroneous match made by the facial recognition software. Smith warned that facial recognition technology is most dangerous when it's believed to be perfect because governments may no longer verify the facial recognition results at that point and completely rely on them to identify criminals.

Smith believes governments should adopt a strong framework for how it should use facial recognition in a way that doesn’t infringe on people’s rights. Retailers may also need regulation that requires asking for customers' consent letting facial recognition software can track them in-store, he argues. 

Microsoft’s President previously recommended that the U.S. Congress create an independent commission that can evaluate the dangers of facial recognition technology and propose regulation frameworks. A similar expert commission was used after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Since then, 28 such expert commissions were formed on various issues, such as protecting children in disasters or the future of the U.S. army.

  • shrapnel_indie
    Earlier this year, Smith called for governments to regulate the use of facial recognition technology so that user’s rights aren’t constantly violated in the future by corporations and government agencies.

    Sadly, not all governments play by their own rules. Many hate competition in the private sector in certain areas.
    Reply
  • TMTOWTSAC
    I wonder how he reconciles those statements with the actions of his own company in regards to tracking the location and activities of their customers.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    21470990 said:
    I wonder how he reconciles those statements with the actions of his own company in regards to tracking the location and activities of their customers.
    It's a good question, but perhaps you might find that he's not happy about it.

    A lot of times, people in industry want regulations to hold their competitors back. Because, if the competition crosses a certain line, they have to follow or risk going under.

    So, in a world where Google and Facebook are monetizing people's data, MS might feel it has no choice but to do the same. That's different than saying they're going there eagerly, or even willingly.
    Reply
  • Mipam_
    Guy Fawkes mask anyone?
    Reply
  • Peter Martin
    i have bad news for you. It's already 1984 out there.
    Reply
  • stdragon
    Already happening in China with massive surveillance. All this to build your "social credit score" which has nothing to do with personal finances. It has everything to do with your citizen ranking (ladder?) that favors homage to the government as the demigod force that demands respect and attention.

    The future of AI? It's not to empower you. It's to empower those that own it OVER YOU.

    I feel like Fight Club where I'm just waiting for the entire "system" to collapse under tyranny of the state by the state.
    Reply
  • Peter Martin
    I feel you brother.
    Reply
  • jeyman
    Worried about facial recognition tracking you? How many people have smart phones or other gadgets they carry? You're a willing participant in being tracked and monitored. All this does is loop in the few stragglers that don't have such devices. I'm not saying I like it or that it is in any way acceptable, but face it (no pun intended), it's already too late.
    Reply
  • TMTOWTSAC
    21471179 said:
    21470990 said:
    I wonder how he reconciles those statements with the actions of his own company in regards to tracking the location and activities of their customers.
    It's a good question, but perhaps you might find that he's not happy about it.

    A lot of times, people in industry want regulations to hold their competitors back. Because, if the competition crosses a certain line, they have to follow or risk going under.

    So, in a world where Google and Facebook are monetizing people's data, MS might feel it has no choice but to do the same. That's different than saying they're going there eagerly, or even willingly.

    Fair point. For a long time before the subprime mortgage crash in the US a number of financial institutions wanted nothing to do with them. But when their competitors were raking in money (on paper at least) hand over fist they didn't have a lot of choices. Either hop on board or get left behind and go bankrupt the old fashioned way.

    If that's the way he feels he has my sympathies. But, MS as a company? Here's a patent application from 2012 that MS filed, describing how they can use a camera on your TV to determine the number of people present in a room, their identities, and the content they are watching for the purposes of limiting movie rentals (for example) from displaying if unauthorized people are present.

    Seriously.

    So the screen can shut itself off if someone walks into the room who didn't pay to watch your rental/stream/etc.

    https://patents.google.com/patent/US20120278904
    Reply
  • homeybaloney
    theres one government and law for targeted individuals and one for everyone else, so nothing to worry about if your on the watching side.
    Reply