Amazon/Victor Tangermann
Fear Factor

Amazon Claims Rekognition Can Now Detect Fear

The facial recognition tech has also gotten better at estimating ages, Amazon says.

Kristin HouserAugust 14th 2019

Amazon Web Services’ facial recognition technology, Rekognition, can now detect fear.

At least, that’s according to Amazon — but given that the tech has been proven inaccurate again and again, it’s hard to say whether the newly announced capability actually works as advertised.

On Monday, Amazon Web Services (AWS) published a blog post detailing several updates to its controversial tech, including improved accuracy at detecting seven emotions on a person’s face — happy, sad, angry, surprised, disgusted, calm, and confused — with fear added as an eighth emotion.

The company also claimed it had improved Rekognition’s ability to estimate a person’s gender as well as their age, with the tech now providing a narrower range of possibilities for most age groups.

The announcement of the updates was met by a wave of criticism online, with cloud computing economist Corey Quinn noting that the move seems incredibly ill-timed given recent controversy surrounding Rekognition.

“AWS comes under fire for Rekognition sales to the federal government, who in turn is building concentration camps for children, and AWS’s response is to improve ‘age range estimation’ and ‘fear detection’ in the service?” he tweeted. “I mean, if they had come to me and asked ‘Hey Corey, what’s the dumbest possible move we could make in this moment’ I don’t think I’d have come up with something this horrible.”

Tone-deaf timing aside, there’s also a genuine possibility that the technology doesn’t even work — but that law enforcement will rely on it anyways.

Countless tests of Rekognition have already revealed the tech’s shortcomings, and the day after AWS published the new blog post, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California held a press conference to announce the results of yet another — this time, Rekognition falsely matched one in five photos of California lawmakers to mugshots.

“If you get falsely accused of an arrest, what happens?” Phil Ting, one of the falsely matched lawmakers, said during the press conference. “It could impact your ability to get employment, it absolutely impacts your ability to get housing. There are real people who could have real impacts.”

Thankfully, at least one law enforcement agency testing the tech has already dropped it. But it’s hard to say how many others are still relying on Rekognition.

And the fact that AWS seemingly didn’t hesitate to announce these new updates despite the current controversy could be a sign the company will continue pushing the product out to anyone willing to buy it, public opinion — and accuracy — be damned.

READ MORE: Amazon adds fear detection and age ranges to its facial-recognition tech as the Border Patrol looks to award a $950 million contract [Business Insider]

More on Rekognition: Police Are Using Facial Recognition Tech on Unconscious Suspects

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