AI Insight Forum draws flak with Clearview invitation
Chuck Schumer is talking to people about AI, and he’s invited the hot-potato facial recognition firm Clearview AI into the conversation, enraging digital rights groups who see business taking precedence over privacy in U.S. government policies around AI-based biometric tech.
The Senate Majority Leader yesterday hosted the third and fourth of nine planned closed-door meetings of his bipartisan “AI gang,” this time to discuss the intersection of AI and the workforce, as well as high impact areas such as healthcare, finance and the justice system.
In comments made on October 30, after President Joe Biden announced the first-ever Executive Order regulating AI, Schumer strikes an optimistic tone, sprinkled with paranoid nationalism. “If the Senate’s AI Insight Forums have made anything clear so far,” he says, “it’s that government must be involved in AI, must be ready to invest significantly towards AI innovation, and that we don’t have a lot of time. AI development is moving quickly, adversaries like the Chinese government are moving quickly, so Congress has to act quickly too.”
The list of invitees to Schumer’s third AI insight forum on the workplace, held on the morning of November 1, goes some way to dispelling accusations from the nonprofit digital advocacy group Fight for the Future that Schumer is loading the deck with individuals who stand to benefit from promoting AI, with a potential cost to personal biometric privacy and security. A report from FedScoop lists participants from JPMorgan, Visa, Accenture and Microsoft alongside reps from labor unions National Nurses United, UNITE HERE, IBEW, the CWA and SAG-AFTRA – the last of whose members are still on strike in Hollywood, in part to demand protections from AI.
A face many will recognize from previous controversies
However, the bulk of the rights group’s ire is directed at one Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, who gave a lengthy statement to the AI insight forum, published here in full. In borderline patronizing terms, Ton-That frames AI in the same context as the typewriter, the automobile, and the word processor, as technologies that were “highly controversial when they came into the world” and “met with fear and criticism.” He cites several instances in which Clearview’s facial recognition has had a positive impact, such as in supporting Ukrainian government agencies, freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners, and saving exploited children.
“There is nothing more rewarding for us than knowing that our technology has been able to help save lives,” says Ton-That, in language that might be applied with a butter knife.
The key part comes next, however: “Everyone agrees that American regulation of AI technologies should try to strike the right balance – mitigating potential downsides while still enabling society to capture the tremendous benefits that this technological revolution could bring.” Ton-That’s statement is ultimately an appeal to be able to continue what Clearview and other facial recognition firms have started. When the CEO concludes by saying he looks forward to being a part of the conversation about AI regulation, he does not acknowledge that he is already at its center.
“Inviting Clearview to a discussion about how to regulate artificial intelligence is like inviting an arsonist to a meeting about fire safety,” says a statement from Fight for the Future’s CEO, Evan Greer, as quoted on Common Dreams. “There couldn’t be a more egregious example of a company with a business model that is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and responsible use of AI technology.” Greer says AI is already causing harm, “supercharging discrimination in policing, workplaces, healthcare, housing, and education,” and suggests the first step to a legislative solution is “passing laws to end the existence of predatory surveillance companies like Clearview AI.”
Clearview’s facial image-scraping practices have faced legal challenges across the globe, but continues to see adoption by U.S. law enforcement. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the company has now been invited into the discussion on AI at the government level – given that it recently appointed a host of former U.S. military and intelligence officials to its advisory board, ahead of an anticipated push to further apply their facial recognition tools in espionage and warfare.