The ethical questions that haunt facial-recognition research

Some organizations are starting to demand that researchers be more careful. One of the AI field’s premier meetings, the NeurIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) conference, is requiring such ethical considerations for the first time this year. Scientists submitting papers must add a statement addressing ethical concerns and potential negative outcomes of their work. “It won’t solve the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction,” says David Ha, an AI researcher at Google in Tokyo. The journal Nature Machine Intelligence is also trialling an approach in which it asks the authors of some machine-learning papers to include a statement considering broader societal impacts and ethical concerns, Gerstner says.

Levy is hopeful that academics in facial recognition are waking up to the implications of what they work on — and what it might mean for their reputation if they don’t root out ethical issues in the field. “It feels like a time of real awakening in the science community,” she says. “People are more acutely aware of the ways in which technologies that they work on might be put to use politically — and they feel this viscerally.”

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