“This technology raises troubling philosophical questions about personal freedom,” the host said at the beginning of the clip. “And right now, there are some very immediate practical issues. Because even though it is currently being used, this technology is still very much a work in progress.”
Oliver raised the serious concerns of facial recognition amid the nationwide protests that have erupted over the police killing of George Floyd. The technology is being used to identify protesters, link them to their social media accounts and arrest them. For this reason, it’s been encouraged not to post photos of protesters.
The host even took it a step further, showing clips of MIT Researcher Joy Buolamwini discussing her findings of Amazon’s Rekognition system. Despite the overall accuracy rate being high, white male faces were more easily detected than darker women — even Oprah Winfrey.
“White guy, no problem,” Oliver said. “Which yes, is the unofficial motto of history. But it’s not like what we needed right now was for computers to somehow find a way to exacerbate the problem.”
Oliver explains that a federal study showed that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men, citing examples of mistaking college students for terrorists.
“On the one hand, these technological issues could get smoothed out over time,” he said. “But even if this technology eventually becomes perfect, we should really be asking ourselves how much we’re comfortable with it being used — by police, by government, by companies or indeed, by anyone.”
Oliver also explained that while locations like San Francisco have banned facial recognition, it’s limited to city law enforcement, not federal or private companies. “We need a comprehensive nationwide policy, and we need it right now,” he said. “Because again, there are worries it’s being used in the protests we are seeing now.”