Alphabet CEO Pichai backs temporary ban on facial-recognition technology


This is the stance of Alphabet (parent company of Google) CEO Sundar Pichai, expressed in the form of an op-ed article in the Financial Times Monday.

"There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated", he said, while stressing that Google wants "to offer our expertise, experience, and tools as we grapple with the inevitable tensions and trade-offs".

Pichai said it was important to be clear-eyed about what could go wrong with AI, and that while it promised huge benefits there were real concerns about potential negative consequences. The call comes ahead of the European Commission's planned presentation of its AI strategy, set to be announced early this year.

While this holds great promise, he raised concerns about the potential drawbacks of artificial intelligence and cited, as an example, the role of facial recognition technology that can be used to track down missing people, but also "shameful reasons" that he did not specify. "The question is how best to approach this".

The EU plans suggest imposing a ban of up to five years on the use of automated facial recognition in public places while regulators study the technology's possible impact on areas such as individual privacy.

But he didn't speak out against rivals such as Amazon that do sell the controversial technology.

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"Sane regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential damage with social opportunities", he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards such as the general European data protection regulation, rather than starting from scratch.

He said that individual areas of AI development, like self-driving cars and health tech, required tailored rules.

Pichai also called on governments to work on aligning their regulatory regimes to create global standards.

In parallel with the EU's efforts, the United States is also studying what regulations are needed to address AI, which is predicted to have disruptive effects on society, especially in terms of jobs, and in determining economic prosperity.

Part of this includes a moratorium of up to five years on using facial recognition technology in public areas, to give the European Union time to work out how to prevent abuses, the paper said.

According to Pichai, Google's internal AI principles, which the company released in 2018, and the company's open source tools that test whether AI decisions comply with those principles could help create a fair, universal legal framework for AI to accomplish. "It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone", he said.