Facing up to the world of AI

You may have missed a Linked In post last week by my great friend and ally, Susan Scott-Parker, founder of Business Disability International (bdi) — and this is a good opportunity for me to thank her profusely for her invaluable support and inspiration over many years. This is almost plagiarism on my part but I have her permission…

Does it matter that all the research and commentary on the emerging ‘diversity crisis’ associated with AI and its use of facial recognition software considers gender, race and sexuality but ignores the implications for people with disabilities and especially those with facial disfigurements?

Or could this actually work to the advantage of people with unusual faces? Might we enjoy a wonderful sense of privacy if we are absent from — do not exist in — the vast new databases that are going to be developed based on facial recognition?

Some might even suggest that we will be one of the lucky few, free from surveillance by cameras that just can’t recognise us. Because there seem to be doubts as to whether the AI systems being developed will be able to handle a face which has a birthmark, a paralysis or scarring. Or is being reconstructed over a period of years or decades.

Part of me hopes they never will be able to do such scans — but then I realise that there could be serious downsides. In a small way, I experience such a problem when entering the United States which has just invented a much-acclaimed and very clever digital immigration system. The problem is that it cannot handle (sic) people with sub-digital (sic) hands like me. The missing digits on my left hand causes me to be rejected — although thankfully, so far, an Immigration Officer has looked at my passport photo and recognised me as me.

So, far from wishing to be a lucky outsider, I hope AI systems will discover cunning methods that can scan, track, and identify those of us with distinctly-different faces with ease. I want us all to be fully included.

If the systems fail — or neglect — to do so, the future could look very bleak indeed.

People with significant facial differences could find that our faces — and therefore, we —do not ‘fit’… not only failing to meet the ever-more-demanding ‘look-perfect’ strictures of our global culture but also failing to ‘fit’ the AI methodology at all. The ultimate discrimination perhaps?

Taking this to extremes, we could even reach the point where we and disabled people generally just don’t count at all — in a world where “not to be in the database is not to be at all”.

If you think this is a joke or something out of a dystopian novel, it isn’t. This is for real.

Which is why I’m delighted that Susan has invited Face Equality International to join her at bdi with the support of IBM in creating a community of thought-leaders to ask ‘humans with disability’-related questions that the AI sector needs to address as of now. Watch this space…


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