Complex questions as facial recognition tech joins war in Ukraine

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Washington (AFP) – Ukraine is using facial recognition technology to identify Russian invaders killed on its soil, a complex and unprecedented path for software already seen as problematic, experts said Thursday.

The beleaguered nation is using the details resulting from the process to try to trace and notify the families of the dead, in an act Ukraine says is aimed at piercing Russia’s wartime information filter.

While this kind of artificial intelligence could offer closure to families who have been denied it by fog of war or Kremlin secrecy, the potential for errors is vast and consequential.

“If you’re a Russian parent told your child was killed when it’s not true, that enters into a complex ethical dilemma,” said Jim Hendler, director of the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic. Institute in New York. State.

US company Clearview AI, often criticized by privacy advocates, says it has given Ukrainian officials free access to its service which matches images from the internet with images uploaded by users trying to identify someone.

“Ukrainian officials who have been given access to Clearview AI have expressed their excitement, and we are waiting to hear more,” said Hoan Ton-That, co-founder and CEO of the company, in a statement.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov wrote on Wednesday that his country was using “artificial intelligence” to search social media for profiles of Russian soldiers using images of their bodies, then reporting their deaths to loved ones.

He added that one of the aims was to “dispel the myth of a ‘special operation'”, referring to Moscow’s insistence that the invasion and the war be designated as such.

Ukrainian authorities did not respond to AFP requests for more information on Fedorov’s statement.

“Well Known Problems”

The latest official Kremlin death toll was just under 500 soldiers killed, but that hasn’t been updated for weeks and NATO officials have reportedly estimated the number of Russian soldiers dead, wounded, missing or otherwise out of action at 40,000.

News of the soldiers’ deaths and their funerals appeared in local Russian media, with reports that officials told families roughly where the deceased fell, but few other details.

Facial recognition comes to war as a technology that has encountered significant and sustained doubts, ranging from its intrusion into people’s privacy to criticism that it can misidentify people of color.

Experts have noted that facial recognition can be particularly problematic when used on the dead, especially after battlefield injuries leave people looking very different from a smiling, well-lit photo of a marriage, for example.

“One of the most well-known problems with facial recognition technology is that it’s not perfect, and it will make mistakes, and in some cases those misidentifications can be life changing,” said said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.

Yet he noted that long after wars have ended, many families do not know what happened to their loved ones who went into battle and were never seen again, and noted the technology’s potential usefulness in these cases.

“We can imagine a situation where the ability to reduce the number of people missing in action would be really useful,” he added, although he noted that facial recognition may not be the right one. solution.

In a letter offering its services to Ukrainian authorities, Clearview – constructed with images from public websites and which it touts as a tool for law enforcement – ​​argued that this would indeed be very helpful.

The company, which Italy fined 20 million euros (nearly $22 million) earlier this month over its software, said its database includes some two billion images from VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and can help identify the dead without the need for information like fingerprints.

As for its ability to accurately identify the deceased, Clearview claimed to work “effectively regardless of any facial damage that may have occurred”, he added, although AFP could not verify this claim. independently.

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