Brian Brackeen, the founder and former CEO of facial recognition startup Kairos, has made his way back to the company following his ouster in 2018. Brackeen is now chairing the company’s scientific advisory board, where he’ll help to address and eliminate issues of racial bias from the technology.
While that’s not the company’s explicit mission — it’s to provide authentication tools to businesses — algorithmic bias has long been a topic the company, especially Brackeen, has addressed.
But what happened in the time leading up to his ouster and the events that followed was quite the whirlwind.
In 2018, Kairos’ board of directors forced Brackeen out of his role as CEO, citing willful misconduct as the cause for his termination. In addition to forcing him out of the company he founded, Kairos sued Brackeen, alleging the misappropriation of corporate funds and misleading shareholders.
At the time, Brackeen referred to the events as “a poorly structured coup,” and denied the allegations. Then, Brackeen countersued Kairos, alleging the company and its CEO Melissa Doval intentionally destroyed his reputation through fraudulent conduct. In 2019, Brackeen and Kairos settled the lawsuits. Brackeen then went on to start Lightship Capital with his wife, Candice Brackeen.
Since returning to Kairos, Brackeen has already directed Kairos to focus on what it’s calling the Bias API. The API is designed to make it easier for companies and firms to detect and address any algorithmic biases, according to Brackeen.
Brackeen is not back on a full-time basis, as he has his hands pretty full with Lightship Capital, but he said he’s generally tasked with steering the ship during quarterly meetings.
As for who’s at the helm, that role falls to Dr. Stephen Moore, who joined Kairos as its chief scientific officer in July 2018 following the company’s acquisition of Emotion Reader.
“He is a brilliant mind, and I’m excited to see a scientist in the CEO role,” Brackeen said. “We will work closely together to bring the bias work to the fore, and to make sure it’s a world-class solution. He is as deeply committed to solving the problem of bias as I am.”
Despite the drama of the past, Brackeen told TechCrunch he still considers Kairos to be his baby. It’s also worth noting that folks like Doval, who was appointed to CEO following Brackeen’s ouster, and Mary Wolff, the former COO who spearheaded the lawsuit, are gone.
“First, I will always feel a responsibility to the team, investors and fans of Kairos,” Brackeen said as to why he’s returned. “Many of whom I was singularly responsible for. Secondly, as a society, bias can be found in everything from Twitter image cropping to air dryers not turning on for Black hands. It’s a painful reminder of a society that’s not fair for all. The challenge is that as AI gets to be imbedded in more and more products, we will see bias in all kinds of products. Kairos with its large data set and years of IP, must be the firm that saves us from that dystopian future. I am uniquely situated to lead that strategy.”