IBM to exit facial recognition business, opposes use of AI technology for mass surveillance

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Then again, IBM was already responsible for human rights atrocities in a previous generation: they aided and assisted and provided technology for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, and made the process of killing Jewish people and others in concentration camps more effective and efficient.

With right-wing populism on the march again, this latest move is a smart (if self-interested) instance of “premature anti-fascism”.

Obligatory link to the definitive book on the topic:


Watson told them to say that.


As @Gracchus pointed out, this represents quite a turnaround for a company that once made punched card sorters and blank cards for the Nazis.


IBM still exists?


We like predictable, it helps us to know which way to face in the echo chamber.


Yes, how dare BoingBoing provide relevant historical context for this decision? The nerve!


Not for nothing but IBM is a mess of a company. I wouldnt trust any of their products as they outsource the whole process, do not keep on the people that created the product (they have a very low retention on their outsourced staff) then they have no way of supporting or fixing the products they create. They also outsource the implementation of the product. IBM basically owns the title to the product but from top to bottom, doesnt take responsibility for it (and it’s failures) but takes the money. IBM today is nothing but a used car salesman (no offense to used car salesmen). Yea you could say i have a chip on my shoulder from personal experience with IBM.


You and I might disagree on that context. The subsidiary in Germany was nationalized by the Nazis before the government used the equipment for such deplorable purposes. If someone steals your car and runs over a pedestrian are you guilty? Bad analogy, yes, but at least it’s something new written on this subject rather than the same recycled text on boingboing.

It’s fair to lambaste IBM for all sorts of terrible decisions. I can think of 10 ways the company is immoral right this minute. I think the nazi one is a bit tired though.

IBM fired the person who developed the first supercomputer architecture when she transitioned.


Well companies gotta know it’s limitations, and I guess they couldn’t make an AI that wasn’t biased against different races. AIs are a product of the data they learn from and I suppose IBM has a lot of really racist data.

You are right. That was awful, and I did not know about this. Thank you for educating me.

When I worked for the company, I was proud to be part of a very diverse team and to do my part to help other voices be heard.


For someone who has been here since 2013, I am confused about why you have managed to overlook the fact that the individual Authors are not a collective, and instead choose to pretend they do not have diverse and often-conflicting views on issues. Perhaps you’re only here for the unicorn chasers?

Worse, you decide to “add to the conversation” by chiding everyone for being unable to think independently, instead of considering that you may well have a minority opinion and that, just maybe, many folks will disagree with you.

Lastly, hand-wringing over how “Wait, why am I posting this anyway if BB is an echo chamber” is a really obvious way to try and draw attention to your post in bad faith. There are far better ways to get attention on the internet. We just happen to be rather intolerant of those sorts of obvious attempts.


  1. Don’t post here if you don’t want your position debated,
  2. Don’t pretend either the Authors of Boing Boing, or the users of the BBS, speak with one voice. We are a diverse group of mutants
  3. No one appreciates and energy leech.

How much work has IBM already done toward helping build the new surveillance state? Is their withdrawing going to matter to the powers that be, or will the work be picked up by some other corporation less interested in how history will view them?

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Thanks for the reply, and for the breakdown. I appreciate it. I welcome the disagreement and I appreciate the chance to be educated as @KathyPartdeux did in her comment.

  1. If I am allowed, I welcome the chance to have my position debated. It was flagged away for violating the rules, but I am not aware what rule I broke other than stating what is an unpopular opinion.
  2. Totally agree, which is why I like the place
  3. That’s not my intent; if that’s what happened here I’m sorry.

“Events in history are closer than they appear.”


I read the book I cited above. That’s oversimplifying what happened to an overgenerous degree. There’s a real historical context to this current (and laudable) decision about IBM not allowing its brand to be associated with authoritarian applications of technology, one that the company is doubtless taking into account even if it makes you uncomfortable.


I question how much of this is for real moral reasons vs. easy PR in something they probably weren’t that successful in and were going to drop regardless.

I mean, it still looks good and arguably is a data point for Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. to wake the hell up, but I don’t entirely trust it.


This is a public statement by IMB, obviously, but I can’t help but wonder if they have any classified gov contracts for facial rec or similar AI. Ya know, that you’d never hear or know about anyway.

They need to pledge to not develop any tech that can become “biometrics at a distance,” such as gait-analysis, and also refine their stance for a pledge to not develop any tech that can turn into “find that needle in a haystack, so let’s make a bigger haystack” sort of mass-profiling. That last bit ought to really atone for what they did for the Nazis.