The two leading tech giants, Alphabet Inc., and Microsoft Corp. shared their different stances on the EU’s proposal for a temporary ban on facial-recognition technology. On Monday, January 20, 2020, Alphabet’s CEO, Sundar Pichai supported the EU’s decision while Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith opposed the move. Pichai urged regulatory authorities to consider the possibility of technology being misused and the subsequent negative outcomes.
Pichai and Smith’s Arguments
Pichai, who is also the CEO of Google LLC, supported the European Union’s (EU) move to ban the technology in the view that the technology could be misused for various purposes by companies or law enforcement agencies. The CEO shared his view that the regulators must formulate a proper regulations and rules before the technology is being made available for various private or public groups.
He told a conference in Brussels organized by think-tank Bruegel, “I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it,” Pichai further noted, “It can be immediate but maybe there’s a waiting period before we really think about how it’s being used.” Responding to a question, he said, “It’s up to governments to chart the course” for the use of such technology.
While Smith asserted a different set of arguments against the recent EU’s move and contradicted Pichai’s opinions. Smith, who is also Microsoft’s chief legal officer (CLO), however, explained the positive impacts that could be extracted from the use of the technology. He cited an example, it would be beneficial for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in search of missing children by using facial recognition technology.
Microsoft’s CLO further claimed, “I’m really reluctant to say let’s stop people from using technology in a way that will reunite families when it can help them do it.” On a sarcastic note, he asserted, “The second thing I would say is you don’t ban it if you actually believe there is a reasonable alternative that will enable us to, say, address this problem with a scalpel instead of a meat cleaver.”
EU Regulators Having Tough Time to Decide
Reuters reported that the European Commission has been facing a tough time to strengthen the existing rules on privacy and rights to access to personal data. As compared to the US, the EU has imposed strict rules against the use of technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) by private firms. Earlier in January 2020, the US government had published regulatory guidelines on the AI in which the regulatory authority would have limited control over the technology.
For the last some months, the US has been pressuring the EU to avoid such an aggressive approach. Despite the huge benefits that could be easily calculated for AI technology, Pichai asserted that, meanwhile, there were serious concerns about the possibility of what could go wrong with Ai and its negative consequences. He noted that there was no question for AI to be regulated but the regulators should be cautious about its wrong implications.
Asking the regulators to take a “proportionate approach,” Pichai put, “Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities. This is especially true in areas that are high risk and high value.” Smith also shared the view that the regulators should identify problems first and formulate the rules in a way that the technology would not be used for illegal purposes such as mass surveillance.
However, Smith emphasized, “There is only one way at the end of the day to make technology better and that is to use it.” As per the report of Reuters, the EU would be taking time to arrive at comprehensive rules and for that, the organization put a halt using facial recognition technology in public areas for up to five years.
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