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From the face unlock feature on our smartphones to smart security cameras in homes and businesses, the applications of facial recognition software have become a part of our everyday lives in the past few years. Surely, facial recognition provides a wide range of benefits that help solve some of the most prominent issues in our society. But how much are we told about the potential harm that this technology can cause and the drawbacks that too often go unnoticed?
For instance, Amazon’s facial recognition system recognized Jimmy Gomez, a Harvard graduate and one of the few Hispanic lawmakers serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, as a potential criminal. Google Photos once even labeled two black people as gorillas. In fact, multiple studies have proven that the technology is inaccurate at identifying people of color, especially black women. According to researchers at the MIT Media Lab, facial recognition systems made by IBM, Microsoft, and Face++ misidentified the gender of 35% of dark-skinned women, in comparison to 1% of light-skinned men such as Caucasians who were wrongly labeled. One reason for this may be that the public photos used by tech companies to train these computers could include more white individuals than minorities, or that the engineers who are predominantly white men may unknowingly be designing the systems to recognize certain races better than others.
As these issues with racial bias have become increasingly evident to major tech companies, they have been steadily working towards improvement. Last year, Microsoft was able to decrease the error rates for identifying darker-skinned men and women by up to 20 times, while IBM released a million-face dataset called ‘Diversity in Faces’ that analyzed more than just the basic features of age, gender, and skin tone.
However, even as these tech giants continue to improve the accuracy of their facial recognition systems, concerns still exist in the way that they can be used to discriminate against minorities. The main reason behind this issue is the lack of federal regulations around the use of these technologies, as there are concerns that this could lead to the violation of the general public’s basic civil rights and privacy if the capabilities of facial recognition are abused by law enforcement in order to track the public. Citizens and politicians in many cities have already begun to voice their opinions on this matter; as a result, some states in the United States have banned the use of facial recognition in police officers’ body cameras, while in cities throughout California and Massachusetts, specific uses of this technology for city officials have been outlawed.
Regardless of the privacy issues that surround the use of facial recognition, it is important that we do not forget about its tremendous benefits in society, whether it be its use in helping police identify criminal suspects and missing people, or its role in advanced features of many apps today. But most importantly, we must constantly remind ourselves of the possible limitations that come with this imperfect technology to avoid putting too much of our trust into it.
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Do you have an idea for a research project? The MIT Think Scholars Program may be the perfect opportunity for you. This specific program works to guide high school students on their research projects and ideas. THINK project proposals can be a science, technology, or engineering idea that can be completed in four months within a budget of a thousand dollars. In order to have a winning proposal, you must have the procedures planned out. Winners will receive guidance from MIT undergraduate students and professors. They will also have access to weekly mentorship meetings for their project.
The proposal should follow the format presented on the MIT Think Guide here: https://think.mit.edu/static_files/THINK_Program_Guidelines_2018_19.pdf . In short, it should contain six parts: the project title, abstract, idea, plan, personal, and references.
When creating a research project, here are some to follow:
If you are interested in signing up for this opportunity make sure to submit your application to https://think.mit.edu/ by January 1, 2020. The winners for this program will be announced on January 15, 2020. Using this link, you can also check out the ideas proposed by past winners.