Lots of discussion in my feeds last week about school surveillance. Most of it was concerning a New York Times article about a small district near Niagara Falls that recently switched on a facial recognition system in it’s eight schools.
While they are one of the first K12 districts in the US to adopt this technology, the writer notes that similar systems are already being used in many public spaces like airports and sports arenas. In addition, more than 600 “law enforcement agencies” have adopted facial recognition software from a company called Clearview AI in just the past year.
All in the name of “security” and public safety, of course.
Apple is heavily promoting the feature in their top line iPhone X that scans and recognizes the owner’s face to access the device. I won’t be getting one.
Although there are probably a few bugs in their Face ID system, I’m not especially worried about any potential security issues of someone opening my phone because the software mistakes their face for mine. It’s just that the 2-1/2 year old phone I have now works fine, thank you.
However, on the broader topic of face recognition technology in the real world, a recent edition of the podcast IRL suggests we all need to pay attention.
We aren’t quite at the level of the techies in police and spy TV shows who can access almost any camera in the world and then identify faces with near 100% accuracy, but that future is closer than you might think.
For example, China is creating a database containing the faces of their entire population – 1.3 billion people – and a system that can “match a person’s face to his or her photo ID within three seconds and with 90% accuracy”. They plan to have it in place by 2020, just three years off.
But some applications are much closer to home. The photo management software that comes with most computers does a pretty good job of matching faces in your pictures. Google’s cloud-based Photos application has already collected several hundred million photos and you gotta wonder what they’re learning from all that data.
Anyway, the podcast episode, produced by the Mozilla Foundation, is worth a half hour of your time.
The picture is a promotional scene from the television series Person of Interest. Their computer could do a whole lot more than just identify faces.