The influential project that sparked the end of IBM’s facial recognition program

On June 8, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced the end of his firm’s involvement in facial recognition in a letter to US Senators. The company, he wrote, “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”

IBM’s decision to abandon facial recognition can be seen as a reaction to protests against racism that have called for police reform in the United States, including law enforcement’s use of the flawed technology. But the process began much earlier. In part, it can be traced back to one influential piece of research: the Gender Shades project, from MIT Media Lab’s Joy Buolamwini and Microsoft Research’s Timnit Gebru.