IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today. The company will also no longer develop or research the technology. [...]
"IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency," Krishna said in the letter. "We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies."
Along with the hot new trend of pulling down statues of slavers, racists and nazis, also remember that IBM remains willing to tout, and name things after, Thomas J. Watson, their founder and Hero To The Reich.
IBM's Role in the Holocaust -- What the New Documents Reveal:
Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM's pivotal role in the Holocaust -- all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company's co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler's campaign to destroy the Jews. [...]
Among the newly-released documents and archival materials are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson's personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM's code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann. [...]
From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler's anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries. [...]
Particularly powerful are the newly-released copies of the IBM concentration camp codes. IBM maintained a customer site, known as the Hollerith Department, in virtually every concentration camp to sort or process punch cards and track prisoners. The codes show IBM's numerical designation for various camps. Auschwitz was 001, Buchenwald was 002; Dachau was 003, and so on. Various prisoner types were reduced to IBM numbers, with 3 signifying homosexual, 9 for anti-social, and 12 for Gypsy. The IBM number 8 designated a Jew. Inmate death was also reduced to an IBM digit: 3 represented death by natural causes, 4 by execution, 5 by suicide, and code 6 designated "special treatment" in gas chambers. IBM engineers had to create Hollerith codes to differentiate between a Jew who had been worked to death and one who had been gassed, then print the cards, configure the machines, train the staff, and continuously maintain the fragile systems every two weeks on site in the concentration camps. [...]
At a time when the Watson name and the IBM image is being laundered by whiz computers that can answer questions on TV game shows, it is important to remember that Thomas Watson and his corporate behemoth were guilty of genocide. The Treaty on Genocide, Article 2, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group." In Article 3, the treaty states that among the "acts [that] shall be punishable," are the ones in subsection (e), that is "complicity in genocide." As for who shall be punished, the Treaty specifies the perpetrators in Article 4: "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals."
International Business Machines, and its president Thomas J. Watson, committed genocide by any standard. It was never about the antisemitism. It was never about the National Socialism. It was always about the money. Business was their middle name.
Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.
Sure, don't forget the lessons of history.
But maybe give a little credit to IBM for having learned some of them. Believe it or not, sometimes things improve, and people sometimes do better than their predecessors.
One of the points, as I'm reading it, is that IBM continues to name things after Watson, and hold him up with an air of revery.
Imagine if Berlin's main thoroughfare was named Hitler Street.
Bayer is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. They make Alka-Seltzer, Aleve, Claritin, and RoundUp weed-killer, to name but a few.
Many of the great pharmaceutical innovations of the past 100 years were made by this German company... a German company that did a lot of unregulated testing during the 1940s. (If that's too vague, then let's get specific.)
"The end justifies the means" is never an excuse. Bayer has the same problem as IBM, in that - to quote the above link - "Bayer [..] did little to come to terms with its Nazi past." It's the sort of indifference that allows evil companies to continue to thrive (which is why everyone should stop using Amazon, Facebook, Uber, and... so many more).
I wrestle with this one frequently (the early days and choices on which an IBM is built). In a world of decency, Gordon would be more correct and we could all get on with our days.
But, IBM took the gig and didn't step away years ago or even more recently when privacy concerns over doorbell cameras and deep fakes and everything else that is now real were very apparent. Cue the recall math from Fight Club.
Doing the right thing or righting a wrong thing when nobody is looking usually doesn't get the executive bonuses paid.
Black's book IBM and the Holocaust is extremely uncomfortable, gripping reading. Black details how, after the war, IBM successfully claims the profits from their Deutsche Hollerith spinoff instead of it being seized like other German companies. Simultaneously claiming they had nothing to do with crimes against humanity but saying they should keep the money from crimes against humanity is tricky but IBM pulled it off!
I'll note that their clown went down today, taking radio scanner feeds and other sites with it. Apparently, even their own status page was affected.
I like: "now is the time to begin a national dialogue"
Not last year, or 10yrs ago... now! Because IBMs PR finally caught up.
I worry that renouncing facial recognition will be like Japan giving up the gun - great for a while, but then the folks who didn't do it show up and eat your lunch.
Any graph of gun deaths by country makes this analogy seem to be not a very good one.
I would love for the whole world to give up the gun, and for all governments and corporations to give up facial recognition. I don't think either is likely to happen. The betray move is just too tempting.
Like all tech, there are some great things that could be done with facial rec. - particularly on a small scale - but it's already been used for corrupt, "Big Brother" purposes.
And IBM's still contributing to those very purposes: "IBM exits facial recognition, but that doesn’t mean it’s cutting ties with police".
Clearly there's some idea or fact known to you which made this seem to you like a compelling analogy, but from other people's reaction it's not just me that can't find it.
When is it exactly that you think Japan "gave up the gun" and then - when and how was it that "folks who didn't do it" showed up and ate Japan's lunch?
Giving Up the Gun, Noel Perrin, 1988
Watson, like all good capitalists, never passed up an income opportunity.
Amazon and Microsoft announced they are doing something specifically about police use of facial recognition. Not clear to me they can actually accomplish it though - wouldn't the cops just use a proxy?