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The Modern Public Square: The Free Flow of Information in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Hoan Ton-That BLOG

This speech was given at the Attorney General Alliance on a panel, The Modern Public Square: Privacy & Artificial Intelligence, on June 14, 2022.

Good morning. My name is Hoan Ton-That. I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Clearview AI. Clearview AI is U.S. technology company founded in 2019. The backbone of our technology is an AI/Machine Learning driven algorithm that has been scored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology – NIST – as the most accurate algorithm for recognizing faces in the country and second most accurate in the world. Our facial recognition technology is used by law enforcement and government agencies to help solve crimes, such as human trafficking, crimes of violence and serious property crimes and child abuse. Our technology was used to help identify the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. It is being used right now by government agencies in Ukraine to help secure checkpoints, identify the deceased victims of war, and identify war criminals and has been instrumental in helping Ukraine defend its homeland against the Russian invasion.

What makes Clearview AI unique is that it’s the only facial recognition technology that searches public images that have been posted by people on the public internet – now amounting to more than 20 billion in total. Think of it like a “Google for Faces”. Clearview AI doesn’t search for or retrieve private information, like that from your camera roll, or private social media -- but only publicly available information you would see by using Google or any other search engines. Instead of searching by keywords, instead you search with a photo of a face.

I would like everyone to read this criticism of public access to photographic information, and ask you all to guess who said it, and when it was said. This statement encompasses much of the discussion, opinion, and fear expressed today by many regarding privacy and technology.

“Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’

It sounds like I pulled it right off a recent news article or privacy organization’s website. But the statement is a quote from an article titled “The Right to Privacy” published in the Harvard Law Review, in 1890. It was around that time that the Kodak Brownie box camera was first released and the words ‘Kodak fiends’ were used to describe the camera’s user by those fearful of the new technology. Prior to that product, the public was accustomed to photography being limited to studios and well-orchestrated public events.

After the invention of the Kodak Brownie box camera – anyone could take a photograph of someone in public – with or without their consent. One of the article’s authors later became a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the work is credited with helping shape some of today’s law on the commercial use of people’s images.