In just a matter of years, we've gone from flip phones to full-blown facial recognition technology. Facial recognition is a versatile and impressive concept that's being applied to everything from unlocking smartphones to identifying people of interest. But, with this groundbreaking technology comes a decent amount of backlash, mostly concerning privacy and human rights.
With the widespread use of facial recognition, chances are someone will recognize you everywhere you go. Cameras and monitors will pick up your image and store it in a database, so there's no hiding your location anymore. Because of this constant tracking, there is huge potential to stop criminals in their tracks and even locate missing people. But where does the line get drawn, if it does at all?
What's New in Facial Recognition Tech
Facial recognition technology works by mapping out the physical features of a person's face from a photo or video. Drawing from biometrics, facial recognition "reads" a person's face by using data and numbers, which are then stored for comparison with other faces in the database. The images and data will then be systematically compared in an algorithm to search for and identify any potential matches.
Lately, there has been a ton of news coverage for facial recognition technology. For example, Apple's latest iPhone uses face ID to unlock phones; A simple, convenient new addition that is causing some concern in consumers. Then, there's Amazon's capitalization on facial recognition tech, raking in sales to the government and law enforcement agencies, despite the shareholder vote against it.
Facial recognition tech is presently being used for a variety of purposes
In terms of success, the tech behind facial recognition speaks for itself. After years of programing and tests, the tech is looking sound. However, some corporate giants' versions of the technology outweighs the others, with Amazon's Rekognitionfalling short compared to Microsoft's version. Either way, the recognition tech is moving forward at full speed, regardless of public opinion.
The Potential Behind Recognition Software
Recently, the press coverage of facial recognition software hasn't been too positive. Public outcries and the debates over privacy policies are running rampant. During this turmoil, the positives of recognition software have been seriously overlooked, including its potential to solve crimes.
Picture it like this: There's a street with thousands of people on it, being monitored by hundreds of cameras in real-time. The cameras are equipped with programming to scan and analyze the faces from the monitors and compare them to other faces in the database. Then, a missing person's face or the face of a criminal is uploaded into the database while the cameras are constantly on the lookout for a match. This is what police and investigators are aiming to do.
Basically, the cameras and the facial ID tech will serve as a constant set of eyes (or thousands of eyes, really). Public places will not only be under constant surveillance, but they will also be combed through for specific individuals. In theory, this could work to identify those in hiding, locate missing persons, and serve as a crime deterrent.
Unpacking Privacy Concerns
While this technology does have the potential to ID persons of interest, the constant surveillance isn't specific on who it watches. Everyday people, tourists, children... No one will be able to avoid the constant stare of cameras and monitors. Because of this, privacy concerns are being expressed by millions of people, guilty or not.
In Britain, a recent experiment was conducted by the Metropolitan Police using facial ID cameras and monitoring. Cameras were set up in a busy street, and people passing by began to buzz about the concept. A typical passerby then covered his face from the cameras, causing a huge scene from the team conducting the experiment. In their eyes, his distaste to being filmed seemed to smell of guilt. But for the man, he felt as though he was just expressing a basic human right. Who were they to tell him whether or not he can cover his face in public?
The face ID experiment done by the Metropolitan Police in London resulted in mixed emotions
Experiences like these then bring up the suggestion for public notices before cameras are installed in public locations. That would theoretically address the privacy concerns, if people are aware that they are on camera (just like with regular surveillance cameras). However, there's then the concern that these areas would obviously be avoided by guilty individuals, completely defeating the purpose.
The Road Ahead
The future of facial recognition tech is fairly uncertain. While it is excelling from a programming point of view, there are still many social obstacles that need to be addressed before its incorporation.
One of the largest concerns besides privacy is accuracy. Because the tech is still fairly new, the trials aren't entirely conclusive. There is a huge possibility that the tech could falsely incriminate people based on a faulty ID system. Mistaken identifications and the "unfair targeting minorities" are just a few of the problems that scientists and investigators are foreseeing.
Putting the specifics aside, the largest obstacle still remains privacy. There's an overarching sense of inconsistency as well, because some local governments are in favor of facial ID, while others are vehemently against it. This could also carry across international borders, with rules and rights varying drastically country to country.
As the age of technology progresses, we're facing a new way of life. With technology, we're seeing new versions of life that no one in humanity has ever experienced. And with that comes our inexperience in dealing with the convenience and unfamiliarity of tech's overarching hand in almost every aspect of life. Politicians and law enforcement alike will have to re-adjust rules and regulations for humanity, now that tech is an integral part of our lives. Tech is certainly propelling us forward, and it will be interesting to unpack just what that entails for us mere humans.