In case you missed it, Blake Hall of ID.me recently shared an article by Stewart Baker about “The Flawed Claims About Bias in Facial Recognition.”
As many of you know, there have been many claims about bias in facial recognition, which have even led to the formation of an Algorithmic Justice League.
Back to Hall’s article, which makes a number of excellent points about bias in facial recognition, including the studies performed by NIST (referenced later in this post), but I loved one comparison that Baker wrote about.
So technical improvements may narrow but not entirely eliminate disparities in face recognition. Even if that’s true, however, treating those disparities as a moral issue still leads us astray. To see how, consider pharmaceuticals. The world is full of drugs that work a bit better or worse in men than in women. Those drugs aren’t banned as the evil sexist work of pharma bros. If the gender differential is modest, doctors may simply ignore the difference, or they may recommend a different dose for women. And even when the differential impact is devastating—such as a drug that helps men but causes birth defects when taken by pregnant women—no one wastes time condemning those drugs for their bias. Instead, they’re treated like any other flawed tool, minimizing their risks by using a variety of protocols from prescription requirements to black box warnings.From https://www.lawfareblog.com/flawed-claims-about-bias-facial-recognition
As an (tangential) example of this, I recently read an article entitled “To begin addressing racial bias in medicine, start with the skin.” This article does not argue that we should ban dermatology because conditions are more often misdiagnosed in people with darker skin. Instead, the article argues that we should improve dermatology to reduce these biases.
In the same manner, the biometric industry and stakeholder should strive to minimize bias in facial recognition and other biometrics, not ban it. See NIST’s study (NISTIR 8280, PDF) in this regard, referenced in Baker’s article.
In addition to what Baker said, let me again note that when judging the use of facial recognition, it should be compared against the alternatives. While I believe that alternatives should be offered, even passwords, consider that automated facial recognition supported by trained examiner review is much more accurate than witness (mis)identification. I don’t think we want to solely rely on that.
Because falsely imprisoning someone due to non-algorithmic witness misidentification is as bad as kryptonite.