Alphabet CEO Sides With EU on Facial-Recognition Tech Moratorium, But Microsoft Isn't Convinced - 4 minutes read

Alphabet CEO Sides With EU on Facial-Recognition Tech Moratorium, But Microsoft Isn't Convinced

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently came out in support of a European Union proposal for instating a temporary ban on facial-recognition technology until officials beef up privacy regulations.

“I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it,” he said Monday at a conference in Brussels, Belgium helmed by the think-tank Bruegel, per a Reuters report.

“It can be immediate but maybe there’s a waiting period before we really think about how it’s being used,” he continued. “It’s up to governments to chart the course” for how facial-recognition tech is rolled out to the public, such as how specific rules apply to medical devices versus self-driving cars versus any one of the many different sectors AI has crept into.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, on the other hand, warned against pumping the brakes so quickly, arguing instead for methodical reform that addresses the issue “with a scalpel instead of a meat cleaver,” per Reuters. He specifically cited how facial recognition tech is currently been used for beneficial campaigns, like helping NGOs reconnect missing children with their families.

“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,” Smith said.

While Smith agreed that the need for additional regulations would no doubt crop up as more industries adopt AI, he took a much more active approach to reining in potential abuses: “There is only one way at the end of the day to make technology better and that is to use it,” he added.

Regulators worldwide have been struggling to govern artificial intelligence as its foothold in both private industries and law enforcement agencies grows increasingly stronger. But while U.S. officials have adopted a laissez-faire approach to administrating the developing technology, their EU counterparts seem more concerned with protecting citizens’ data rights and privacy. Reports have been circulating for the better half of a year now that European regulators aim to crack down on AI with additional restrictions that’d make American politicians balk and scream about ‘government overreach.’

According to proposal papers shared with Reuters, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, plans to propose a moratorium of up to five years on implementing facial-recognition technology in public places. The hope being that, in the meantime, officials strengthen existing legislation to curb nefarious uses

“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,” Pichai said, according to the report.

Given how quickly “deepfakes” have improved, and how frantically local governments have struggled to keep regulatory legislation apace with that progress, I’m inclined to think the U.S. could learn a thing or two from the EU’s measured approach. Particularly since we’ve already seen our fair share of public officials using the tech for less than upstanding purposes.


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