IBM exits facial recognition business as CEO calls on congress to address racial injustice

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announces his company is dropping its facial recognition business in a letter to congress. (Pixabay)

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to congress on Monday that his company was getting out of the facial recognition business while also asking for reforms to combat racism. 

Facial recognition technology, which has also been employed by companies such as Facebook, has been criticized for exhibiting gender and racial bias.

"IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency," Krishna said in his letter to members of congress. "We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies."

RELATED: IBM unveils tools to detect bias in artificial intelligence

The ethics of using artificial intelligence (AI) for services such as facial recognition has been an ongoing debate for several years. Two years ago, IBM sought to alleviate some of the fear around using AI by launching cloud software designed to identify any bias in artificial intelligence deployments while also recommending fixes.

IBM's "Fairness 360 Kit" was a toolkit that included a library of algorithms, code and tutorials that was designed to give academics, researchers and data scientists the tools and knowledge to integrate bias detection as they build and deploy machine-learning models.

AI and machine learning are key elements of service providers' hybrid networks, and they hold the potential for implementing closed-loop automation in more complex architectures.

"Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe," Krishna said. "But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported."

With the backdrop of George Floyd's death and the protests seeking to address police reform and racial inequality, Krishna said "national policy also should encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing, such as body cameras and modern data analytics techniques."

According to a story by CNBC, Krishna's decision to eliminate the facial recognition business was both a business and ethical one, according to an un-named source. The same source said IBM had heard from various constituents, including from its employees, about its use of facial recognition.

Krishna also called on congress to bring more police misconduct cases under federal court purview and make modifications to the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents individuals from seeking damages when police violate their constitutional rights.

"Congress should also establish a federal registry of police misconduct and adopt measures to encourage or compel states and localities to review and update use-of-force policies," Krishna said.

Krishna's letter was addressed to sponsors and co-sponsors of a police reform bill introduced by Democrats Monday, which included: Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

RELATED: IBM CEO Krishna plans 'thousands' of job cuts—report

Krishna, who previously led IBM's cloud computing business, took over as CEO on April 6 after Ginni Rometty announced in January that she was stepping down as CEO after four decades with the company. As CEO, Krishna has said he is focused on expanding IBM's cloud services as it looks to close ground on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Last month The Wall Street Journal (pay wall applies) reported that IBM would be cutting thousands of employees across several sectors at IBM, including the Global Technology Services (GTS) division, which offers IT outsourcing. In April, IBM announced it took a $900 million charge against earnings, largely to cover restructuring costs related to its GTS division. To date, Krishna hasn't provided any details on IBM's planned job cuts.