Seattle Area Tech Leaders Talk Regulation at Summit

More than 800 people in tech, policy, media and business came together for the 2019 GeekWire Summit. The annual tech conference highlighted investment trends and explored concerns around surveillance and regulation.

by Melissa Hellmann, The Seattle Times / October 9, 2019

(TNS) — More than 800 people in tech, policy, media and business swarmed downtown Seattle’s Hyatt Regency on Tuesday for the first full day of the 2019 GeekWire Summit. The eighth annual technology conference highlighted investment trends and explored concerns around surveillance and regulation.

In a morning discussion about security technology moderated by Geekwire’s Monica Nickelsburg, panelists Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Carmen Best, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle; and Axon President Luke Larson agreed government regulation is needed on tools that can pose privacy concerns, such as facial recognition technology.

“As we look at these new technologies coming out, I think the key check should be: if there’s room for this to be misused, we need some regulations around it,” said Larson. Axon, a police body-camera maker, announced in June it would not incorporate facial-recognition software in its law-enforcement devices, following a recommendation by the company’s ethics board on artificial intelligence (AI) and policing technology.

Technology can be used as a tool in policing when it is deployed in a very “intentional and deliberate way,” he added.

Jayapal argued governments shouldn’t be the only entities overseeing technology, but that companies and individuals also have the responsibility to uphold the civil rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution. “A company that is successful … thinks about the values first and foremost and thinks about the effects of any technology,” she said.

SPD works with families and public officials to ensure technologies are reviewed through a “race and social justice lens,” said Best.

In a fireside chat with Brad Smith, the Microsoft president echoed the need to regulate facial recognition technology, emphasizing that technology companies should be proactive in deploying unbiased technology. “I don’t think companies should be getting a pass on this issue by simply saying: ‘We hope there will be a law … and once it’s passed, we’ll comply,’” said Smith.

In a December blog post, for instance, Smith said Microsoft has adopted six principles on the use of facial recognition technology including transparency, fairness and accountability. The company has gone a step further by refusing to sell its facial recognition technology to authoritarian governments or law enforcement agencies where the technology has the potential to be misused, Smith said.

Humans should have the option to “turn off” the technology if “it’s doing something that isn’t working properly, or isn’t following the ethical approach you envision,” said Smith.

In a clear reference to the Boeing 737 MAX crashes that resulted in the deaths of 346 people, Smith called the system in the cockpit of an airplane that pilots couldn’t overcome “the biggest software-related issue to impact the Puget Sound economy in 2019.”

“As powerful as technology has become, as important as it is for all of us in the world today, I think all of us … actually want humans to remain in control,” Smith said.

The summit will conclude on Wednesday with discussions featuring Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom and Amazon’s Devices and Services Senior Vice President Dave Limp.

©2019 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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