The iPhone X brings over a facial recognition system that has no rival in the mobile business. Made possible by a complex array of front-facing cameras and sensors, Face ID should be a lot more secure than anything available on competing devices, as it comes with 3D depth sensing features. Unlike handsets from the competition that had facial recognition for years, the TrueDepth camera can’t be fooled with a photo of the user, and it’ll work in any conditions, even in the dark.
But will Face ID be racist? Apple says no.
Soon after the iPhone X was unveiled, Senator Al Franken asked Apple what the company was doing to make sure the new unlock mechanism is safe for the user, both when it comes to security and privacy. The senator also wanted to know how Apple will address diversity and protect against any bias, race included.
Apple already answered many security-related questions in a white paper published not too long ago — read more about it at this link. But Apple just explained how it trained Face ID not to be racist. As Gizmodo explains, older facial recognition products failed to recognize people with dark skin. In 2009, an HP webcam failed to register black people. Technology advanced since then, but Google’s AI system that powers Google Photos labeled black people as gorillas in 2015.
Apple revealed it trained Face ID using over a billion images in studies conducted with the participant’s informed consent and featuring a broad range of users. Here’s Apple full comment.
The accessibility of the product to people of diverse races and ethnicities was very important to us. Face ID uses facial matching neural networks that we developed using over a billion images, including IR and depth images collected in studies conducted with the participants’ informed consent. We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity, and other factors. We augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users. Also, a neural network that is trained to spot and resist spoofing defends against attempts to unlock your phone with photos or masks.
Meanwhile, Franken is apparently happy with Apple’s answers on the matter so far. “I appreciate Apple’s willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I’m glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns,” he said. “I plan to follow up with Apple to find out more about how it plans to protect the data of customers who decide to use the latest generation of iPhone’s facial recognition technology.”
The iPhone X launches on November 3rd, so we’ll soon see how good Face ID is.