back to article Politicians fume after Amazon's face-recog AI fingers dozens of them as suspected crooks

Amazon’s online facial recognition system incorrectly matched pictures of US Congress members to mugshots of suspected criminals in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result, the ACLU, a nonprofit headquartered in New York, has called for Congress to ban cops and Feds from using any sort of computer-powered …

Page:

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, that's a good way of getting politicians to actually take notice, certainly...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Absolutely. Nothing like hitting their reputation to get things sorted out.

      Our reputations ? They can lie in waste, no problem (for them). But theirs ? No way we can let computers call them liars - people might start believing it, and we can't have that, now can we ?

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      being politicians, I thought that meant 'crook' by definition?

  2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    Poetic Justice?

    I've heard there are some as would brand all politicians as criminals.

    I couldn't possibly endorse such scurrilous claim.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Re: Poetic Justice?

      Of course, it's the crooks that should be the ones complaining.

      "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."

      Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar

      1. wsm

        Re: Poetic Justice?

        They may be a criminal class according to the facts and figures, considering the high rate of those convicted of crimes or resigning just before being arrested.

        We call them unindicted co-conspirators or persons of interest until such time as they are actually serving a sentence, but why quibble over details.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Poetic Justice?

        And aren't most of them Lawyers to boot?

        Pity they can't give the POTUS the boot. The prospect of another 4 years of [redacted] makes me real sad for the USA. They'll have to start another World War to recover /sic

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Poetic Justice?

          Pity they can't give the POTUS the boot

          It really, really isn't, as long as Mike Pence is next in line. You think things are bad now? See what happens if Pence gets the top job.

          Fact is, we'd have to dig pretty deep into the line of succession to improve the situation measurably.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Poetic Justice?

      The truth will out. Maybe the program is looking to the future.

  3. Jim Mitchell
    Alert

    I'm confused, this article appears to totally lack the requisite amount of snark for an article that has both legislators AND criminals. This can't be a real El Reg article, I'd like to see the facial recolonization results of the author, please.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Ehhhh, we were gonna leave it to the comments to make the obvious gag link.

      C.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        make the obvious gag link

        I didn't know that they were Tories..

  4. LenG

    And this is a surprise how?

    "Amazon’s online facial recognition system matched pictures of US Congress members to mugshots of suspected criminals in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union."

    (my correction of original text)

  5. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Applause

    Can we have the same test applied to Cressida's toy in London as well.

    1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      Re: Applause

      can they put the guns away first though?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Applause

        "can they put the guns away first though?"

        In this particular instance, no. That should concentrate their minds.

  6. Oengus Silver badge

    Predictive

    Maybe the AI isn't matching the pictures but predicting the future of the politicians shades of "Minority Report".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Predictive

      The other thing that happened in Minority Report was persionalised targeted adverts (albeit based on a retina scan). Thats the true goal, side 'benefits' are flagging people.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Predictive

        The other thing that happened in Minority Report was persionalised targeted adverts (albeit based on a retina scan). Thats the true goal, side 'benefits' are flagging people.

        I'd better get myself some new ones. Anybody up for a swap? Sadly you'll be getting a pair of well used, pr0n scarred, exceptionally myopic eyeballs*.

        Maybe there's some truth in what they say about it being bad for your eyes.

    2. Rocketist
      Childcatcher

      Re: Predictive

      Maybe the average member of Congress has a similar physiognomy to a certain class of criminals?

      I seem to remember there was a study about a year ago where certain behavioral patterns could be predicted from an analysis of the person's features; something that has been suggested in the 19th century but vehemently (and rightly) criticized by most serious scientists ever since.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Nope, not ready for prime time and yet they're trying sell those junk. Given some of the police actions of late, I'm not sure how many false positives will die but it could be enough to raise a public outcry and that's too late for any innocent who's dead or injured.

    Put it back in the shed, Amazon and let the folks there tinker under the hood some more. Profit can wait until you get it right. And by "right".. that equals 100%.

    Disclaimer: It should be banished, buried, and burned. Facial recognition can't possibly come to a good end.

    1. cbars

      *automated facial recognition

      I find my facial recognition ability quite useful, and as far as I know it hasn't caused any harm - yet

      1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        "I find my facial recognition ability quite useful, and as far as I know it hasn't caused any harm - yet"

        Depends on how many of those facials ended up in someone's eye, I've heard that can be quite painful...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Let me guess... "yep, that's a face alright".

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Given some of the police actions of late, I'm not sure how many false positives will die but it could be enough to raise a public outcry and that's too late for any innocent who's dead or injured.

      Yes. Combining half-assed automation that has abysmal accuracy with police militarization and you have a recipe for a sharp increase in trigger-happy assholes killing innocent civilians for Texting While Black and similar offenses.

      Police departments need to get their house in order before adding any more automation, and vendors like Amazon need to make their products much, much better before peddling them to the police.

      I'd like to hope Amazon catches some flak from investors (the only thing they care about) over this, but I'm not holding my breath.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yes. Combining half-assed automation that has abysmal accuracy with police militarization and you have a recipe for a sharp increase in trigger-happy assholes killing innocent civilians for Texting While Black and similar offenses.

        IIRC the majority of people killed by US police officers are white. But in general I agree with the point you're making.

        1. 's water music Silver badge
          Big Brother

          No idea of the relaibility of the source or reliability of the data available but it appears that non-whites are statistically over-represented, demographically speaking.

          Watching but not wearing the right spectacles?---->

  8. mildy bemused

    Congress

    Where did the ACLU find "28 innocent members of Congress"?

    1. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: Congress

      Ok mildy bemused non convicted/ not in the system yet .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Congress

      "not found guilty of anything yet" rather than innocent.

      This AI face-recog clearly has a pre-crime system,

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Congress

      "Where did the ACLU find '28 innocent members of Congress'?"

      in the same place you find Unicorns and Leprichauns and other mythological creatures

  9. mildy bemused

    Accessorize to a Crime: Real and Stealthy Attacks on State-of-the-Art Face Recognition

    A couple of years old but interesting research on misdirecting facial recognition software https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~sbhagava/papers/face-rec-ccs16.pdf.

    I would think that it works, at least in part, because the software designers did not anticipate any attempt to defeat recognition other than by wearing a disguise.

  10. DougS Silver badge
    Devil

    Only 28?

    Surely that's the number of innocent members of congress. Maybe there's a signed/unsigned error in Amazon's recognition system?

    1. Joe Werner

      Re: Only 28?

      Yes, I assume the other 500 were correct matches... ;p

      1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

        Re: Only 28?

        They were.

  11. veti Silver badge

    New training rule needed

    Looking at the photo accompanying the article, it seems to me: you can fairly safely assume that anyone who poses in front of a flag is up to no good.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: New training rule needed

      It also seems to pick out facial hair nicely. Only about 6% of congress has facial hair yet there are clearly 8 in this group who certainly have facial hair and it looks like several others could easily have some stubble that may fool the digital filters.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: New training rule needed

        Or the face-recog "AI" has parameters like "the bad guy always has a beard and/or wears a black hat".

        (Hey, it worked in all the classic John Wayne movies, so proof of concept, right?)

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: New training rule needed

      And actually hugging or wrapping yourself in a flag is proof positive.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: New training rule needed

        And actually hugging or wrapping yourself in a flag is proof positive.

        A good friend of mine got married a couple of years back. As Hindus, he and the bride were wrapped in a large and beautifully embroidered swastika cloth as part of the ceremony. I hate to think what "AI" would make of all the pictures on social media.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It’s not totally clear why Amazon’s face recognition technology is so inaccurate."

    Pretty simple, really. All facial recognition is horribly inaccurate. Studies done on humans show that even we're only good at recognizing faces for people we already know. We've all had instances where we've mistaken a stranger for someone we know, even. Machine learning algorithms have already been able to out do humans, but that comes with huge caveats from the training sets. The ML algorithms tend to end up saying "All Asians look alike" or "All blacks look like apes", because they didn't have enough relevant training data (read: they are usually trained and tested with a heavy Caucasian bias, except in China.) ML algorithms require insane amounts of examples to generalize from. But facial recognition is a memorization problem instead, so, the goal is to use a huge amount of examples to determine all of the ways that faces can differ, so you can determine where a specific face falls in that feature space, then you match "reasonably" similar faces. That's complicated by translation, rotation, lighting, as well as physical modifications to the face. With 7.5 billion people to distinguish between, and low-resolution cameras, you're going to have a nasty trade off between false positives and false negatives. I'd expect they would either try to split the errors evenly or err on the side of false positives, since those can be checked by a human.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      And in practice worse since you have a training set of mug-shots (3 views square-on staring ahead, fixed lighting) and are hunting for matches in poor quality CCTV footage at random angles and lighting

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Not properly House trained

      The simplest explanation is that since the focus is on catching crims, the training data was mostly or completely composed of mugshots. This is based on the high false-positive rate that matches the incarceration rate in the US. Nothing like building in a self-perpetuating bias.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Those 28 mismatches therefore represent a five per cent error rate. "

      Compared to the something like 97% false positive rate of the system the UK Metropolitan Police are trialing that is actually quite good.

      Still pretty s**t, but in population of 30 million adults (like the UK) that would 1.5 million false positives.

      Frankly you'd better to issue every officer with a fingerprint reader.

      But then of course you'd need to actually do some real police work and they might start harassing officers who did this with too little evidence to begin with.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      low-resolution cameras

      Surely that can be addressed by having some superior officer shout "Enhance!" at the machine periodically.

  13. Garymrrsn
    Black Helicopters

    And in this day and age...

    Some supremacist group will use the ACLU test results to promote the groups racist agenda. I can see the "Fake News" headline now:

    "Advanced Facial Recognition Proves They Are More Criminal Than Us"

  14. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    In other news

    TSA's mother TLA, the DHS, has asked Amazon how quickly they could roll out this technology at every airport in the US. The rationale is that this would do preliminary screening of travelers as they arrive at the curb in order to select individuals for extended groping enhanced screening as they pass through security on their way to their flight.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: In other news

      Yet another reason to never visit theUS if that goes ahead. (nott that I have plans to go there again in the near to medium future anyway.)

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: In other news

      To be fair, it's no worse than the methods they currently use.

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019