WeeklyTech #119

Always Known but Rarely Loved: A Christian Ethical Assessment of Facial Recognition Technology

In January 2020, Kashmir Hill of The New York Times broke a story about a little-known startup company, Clearview AI, that developed a controversial facial recognition application for policing and government surveillance. The simple application allows users, primarily law enforcement, to upload a subject’s photo to the Clearview AI database, and then receive a name or identity as well as all known public photos of that person. These photos come from a host of locations across the internet including photos that the subject may not know exist such as pictures where they were in the background of a stranger’s photo or someone took their photo without their knowledge or consent. This application became a source of national inquiry and intrigue because Clearview AI has, at the time of this writing, partnered with over 2200 local law enforcement and police departments across the United States and initially had plans to expand into commercial opportunities. Law enforcement officers found the technology to be extremely useful in identifying suspects and breaking open cold cases, but also found the technology to be incredibly invasive into the personal privacy of the general public who likely had no idea that this application existed before the Hill story or that it has already been deployed in departments and agencies in their local communities.

Throughout the world, highly sophisticated surveillance systems like facial recognition are being utilized to track, identify, and direct people in all parts of the world. Recent global events, such as the 2020 outbreak of COVID-19 and the continued systemic persecution of religious minorities in nations like China, have challenged how the world thinks about government led technology surveillance. Especially in light of the sheer bravado of companies like Clearview AI to push the ethical bounds of data collection and usage, questions about the ethical use of these technologies for the public good abound in our digital age. These ethical issues include, but are not limited to, personal privacy, bias, discrimination, religious freedom, and the nature of security. For all of the good these systems often provide for society in terms of security and surveillance, how does one weigh the potential abuses and oppressive uses of this technology in light of the Christian moral tradition? And how does the Christian concept of human dignity inform the role of facial recognition surveillance for government use? Drawing on the concept of the image of God, this article argues that the Christian moral tradition provides a clear and compelling path forward for development and utilization of facial recognition tools that can be deployed in ways that honor God and love our neighbors, uphold personal privacy, and protect the innocent.

This article will examine the ethical implications of this controversial new technology, the foundation of personal privacy in both the secular and Christian moral traditions, the role of the face in Christian theology, and the proper place of these tools for governmental use through policing and surveillance in society in line with the Christian concept of human dignity grounded in the imago Dei.

The Rundown

🔒Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down – Elizabeth Dwoskin and Rachel Lerman | The Washington Post

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he was stepping down from the social media service in a letter posted to Twitter early Monday.

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation – Karen Hao | MIT Technology Review

An MIT Technology Review investigation, based on expert interviews, data analyses, and documents that were not included in the Facebook Papers, has found that Facebook and Google are paying millions of ad dollars to bankroll clickbait actors, fueling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

🔒We Argue in All the Wrong Ways – David French | The Third Rail

The vast majority of Americans don’t have disruptive debates about politics during the holidays. In fact, lots of folks I know work mightily to make sure they don’t talk politics when the turkey is on the table, and as politics has gotten more polarized, they work even harder to avoid the subject.

🔒The Mind’s Body Problem – John Gray | The New York Review

According to the major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—humans have a special nature and destiny, different from and superior to those of other animals. Created by a divine power, humans resemble it in not belonging entirely to the natural world. They exercise a freedom of will no other animal possesses and, thanks to the afterlife, are exempt from mortality.

🔒We’re Longing for the One Thing the Metaverse Can’t Give Us – JoAnna Novak | NY Times

After I’ve struggled with anorexia and bulimia for more than 20 years, the last thing I want is technology that further estranges me from my body.

What Is Web3 and Why Are All the Crypto People Suddenly Talking About It? – Aaron Mak | Slate

If you’ve been perusing cryptocurrency forums or video-game news recently—or spying everything from New York Times job listings to zany Twitter threads claiming that the traditional job interview is about to be replaced by blockchain-based “quests, adventures and courses to prove your worth”—you might have run into the term “Web3.”

Can AI Truly Give Us a Glimpse of Lost Masterpieces? – Suhita Shirodkar | WIRED

Recent projects used machine learning to resurrect paintings by Klimt and Rembrandt. They raise questions about what computers can understand about art.