European lawmakers have called a ban on artificial intelligence (AI) systems that detect and label people according to gender or sexuality. They argued that the technology was ripe for abuse and could fuel discrimination.
Alexandra Geese, who drafted an open letter signed by 33 fellow MEPs, told Thomas Reuters Foundation that to reduce people to appearance is discrimination, whether it’s done by humans or machines. “The potential harm of these technical applications outweighs their benefits so blatantly, if they even offer any benefits, that Europe should unequivocally turn its back on them by law.” Another MEP Karen Melchior said there was no need for technologies to be deciding who is male and who is female, who is gay and who is not.
The open letter came after a coalition of rights groups, including All Out, a global LGBT+ rights organization, and the digital rights group Access Now, gathered 30,000 signatures calling for Brussels to implement such a ban. Os Keyes, a PhD student studying such systems, as per report, says that AI systems that identify and process images of people’s faces often include a process that divides people into two genders – male and female.
Keyes said gender-detecting AI had been used on a small scale in Europe, example being a Berlin programme that used face scans to offer women discounted tickets on Equal Pay Day. “AI systems that automatically categorize the population into two genders reinforce gender stereotypes,” he said. “You can’t have a gender recognition system that doesn’t end up contributing to some sort of bias.”
Moreover, researchers have begun building tools to identify sexuality from photographs, including a 2017 research project at Stanford University that said its AI system “correctly identified gay men 83% of the time” in an analysis of some 35,000 facial images.
Daniel Leufer, Access Now’s European policy analyst, said large-scale use of such systems has yet to take place in Europe, but a ban by the 27-member bloc would set a red line for the technology’s future in Europe and beyond. “You can only think of horrible uses for this technology, especially for trans and non-binary people, such as regulating bathroom access.”
Keyes said such technology will also fail to work among people who are either transgender or non-binary.