War in Ukraine: Why did a facial recognition company give away free access to its services?

kyiv ensures that the information obtained through this software is used to find and notify the families of the deceased, thus bypassing the filter of Russian war propaganda.

If this artificial intelligence tool, developed by the American company Clearview AI, can help families grieve, the risk of error is considerable.

“If you are a Russian parent who is told that his child has been killed when it is not true, you are entering into a very complex ethical dilemma”says Jim Hendler, director of the Institute for Data Mining and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State.

Clearview AI said it gave Ukrainian leaders free access to its services that match images posted on the internet to photos uploaded to the company’s servers by users seeking to identify an individual.

Dispelling the Special Operation Myth

“Ukrainian officials who have been granted access to Clearview AI have shown their enthusiasm and we are awaiting further feedback from them”said in a press release the boss and co-founder of the company, Hoan Ton-That.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on the Telegram messaging app on Wednesday that his country was using “artificial intelligence” to compare the profiles of Russian soldiers on social media to photos of their remains and to warn relatives of their dead.

He said that one of the objectives was to “dispelling the myth of a ‘special operation'” in reference to the expression used by Moscow to describe the military invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow officially counts 498 Russian soldiers killed since the start of the conflict, but this figure has not been updated for weeks. NATO, for its part, estimates that the number of military troops killed, wounded or missing is 40,000.

Battlefield injuries can alter facial features

Now used as a tool of war, facial recognition has sparked its fair share of controversy, from the privacy threats the technology poses to algorithmic errors in identifying black people.

For experts, its use to identify the deceased can prove problematic, in particular because battlefield wounds are likely to strongly alter facial features.

“One of the most well-known problems with this technology is that it is not perfect”says Eric Goldman, co-director of the Institute of High Technology Law at Santa Clara University School of Law. “She sometimes makes misidentifications, which can change a life.”

The academic recognizes, however, that technologies could come to the aid of families without news of their loved ones who have gone to war.

“We can imagine cases where it would be desirable to be able to reduce the number of missing combatants”, believes Mr. Goldman. However, he does not believe that facial recognition is the right solution.

Two billion images in the database

In its letter offering its services to the Ukrainian authorities, Clearview AI, for its part, claims to be of great help.

The company says its database has 2 billion images from VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and can identify the dead without needing their fingerprints, which are often difficult to obtain.

As for the accuracy of its deceased identification technology, Clearview AI says it works “effectively, regardless of any facial injuries.” AFP could not independently verify these claims.

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War in Ukraine: Why did a facial recognition company give away free access to its services?


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