By Nancy Dahlberg
Brian Brackeen is returning to Kairos, the Miami-based facial recognition company he founded in 2012. The news comes 2 1/2 years after he was forced out as CEO, leading to a nasty legal fight.
Brackeen gained worldwide attention in 2018 for speaking out and leading Kairos' early efforts to draw attention to the growing problem of algorithm bias in facial recognition systems. In his new role, Brackeen will chair Kairos’ Scientific Advisory Board to continue that work to eliminate racial bias from the technology as well as advise on company strategy. "We're returning science to the front of the conversation," he said in an interview with Refresh Miami.
The time was right for the Kairos return for several reasons. The lawsuits were settled in Brackeen’s favor and the employees and board members involved in the “2018 nonsense” are no longer with the company, Brackeen said. The new leadership voted to ask him back: “It takes a lot of humility to reach out and ask me if I will be willing to come back. That means a lot to me.” And, most important, the racial bias problem in AI has not gone away and the consequences are too severe to ignore.
“Now more than ever, the world needs to address fairness and inclusiveness in AI, and Kairos continues its mission with Brian on board to deliver bias-free face recognition software to the world,” said Kairos Chairman E Jay Saunders, a private equity investor who came on board after Brackeen left the company, in a statement. “We look forward to having his insights and working with Brian to grow the company worldwide.”
Since leaving Kairos in 2018, Brackeen has found his “life’s work” promoting equitable allocation of venture capital as general partner of Lightship Capital, a firm and fund he runs with his wife, Candice Brackeen, that invests in underrepresented founders. That work will continue, so he wasn’t interested in returning to Kairos full-time but said he is excited about the new role to help "steer the ship."
“I feel a responsibility to the vision, to the company, to the employees, many of them I hired, and to the investors,” said Brackeen, who is also a Kairos investor. “I think for a lot of people in Miami and beyond, the company means a lot to them. I want to see it do well for all of us, and now I get the opportunity to help make it a big success.”
Brackeen said he has already directed the company to start work on a new “Bias API” that will allow firms around the world to detect and fix racial biases in their algorithms. “We intend to do deals with the big players like AWS, Google Cloud, and others to expose our service in their clouds to their customers, as well. Kairos will cement its place as a leader in this space, right at the correct time. We have learned so much over the last nearly 10 years, it’s time to use that knowledge for good beyond Kairos’ walls,” Brackeen said in the company’s announcement.
Kairos today is a team of about 9 people mainly in Singapore, Brackeen said, and Stephen Moore, who was hired by Brackeen as chief scientific officer, is leading the company. “He’s a world-class mind and I’m excited to be working with him again,” Brackeen said.
Juan Pablo Cappello, Kairos’ first investor, was involved in the effort to lure Brackeen back. “For eight years, we believed deeply in Kairos’ mission to use facial recognition in a non-biased way. What we’ve seen in AI is, unfortunately, there is a lot of inherent bias and we always felt that Brian and Kairos were extremely well-positioned to address that major challenge,” Cappello said.
Cappello calls this a fresh start for the company — a relaunch. “This is Kairos 3.0 and I’m very excited to continue to support the journey.”
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