One startling piece of news made me quite curious this Sunday. It read “San Francisco bans facial recognition technology”. I tried to dig deeper into the news to get a better understanding of the scenario. In the process, I ended up getting some fascinating information.
Most of the people at San Francisco feared constant surveillance to be a major hindrance on their fundamental rights. This may sound like a loser narrative of tech obscurantists, but the rationale behind the fear is indeed genuine as there are privacy concerns expressed by citizens from across the world.
In fact, this nasty technology is being allegedly used for ulterior motives like cyberbullying by authoritarian governments and private/commercial entities for their selfish interests.
What more, this technology is the central piece of the latest smartphones. Few of them even brag cameras with astounding clarity. 48 megapixels to be precise.
In addition, the smartphones keep capturing our pics every time we unlock our phone, much to the comfort of the third party data miners who may have our pics in all possible scenarios and at different times of the day (and night as well).
We seamlessly upload our photos with jingoism and ease on social media. In fact, Facebook has around profiles of around 25% of humans on earth (2 billion). It has been using this technology for instantly prompting us to tag our friends. By the way, it makes me think harder if Instagram was developed with the intention of having a big data of our pictures, that goes in to feed its parent facebook for its auto-tagging feature!
Moreover, startups could also provide services for having featured advertorial content based on our facial expressions when we unlock the phone. Smartphone advertising could get hyper-personalized with most of them fighting to lure us in the best of our times when we are high to loosen our purse strings and make that mighty online purchase.
So, does the benefit of having the facial database swing in favour of smartphone makers over Facebook? I don’t have an answer. But for sure, it’s the right time that we outsmart this technology by responsible behaviour and minimal usage of smartphones and social media. So think twice before you post that next picture on social media.
Our neighbouring country China undisputedly stands as a leader in tapping facial recognition technology. When countenance surveillance turns into new mode governance, things get awry beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is claimed that China has a monumental facial identity database of its 1.4 billion citizens. A gigantic network of millions of CCTV cameras keeps an eye on the swarming population, be it during their daily commute, shopping and worse even when the students are in their class.
The introduction of social credit scoring for systematic profiling its citizens into the good bad and ugly has attracted strong criticisms from domestic and international civil liberty advocates. Nevertheless, it seems to have taken the social credit scoring system very seriously, much to the discomfort of its citizens.
Alternatively, couldn’t we think of having a human to human interactions credit system? It should work in a way that promotes people to shun their smartphones and walk up to strangers and talk to them. It is triply beneficial for the government, persons in interaction and society.
Mixed with fingerprints, iris and auricular pattern, this appears to be the almost perfect mechanism of personal identification. But, it also makes me think of its technological relevance in democratic countries.
Here’s my take on how India could possibly give a democratic swing to this technology.
We may use it in endless possibilities in India. Maybe a ticketless system in public transport, toll gates fitted with facial recognition software, booking IRCTC train tickets whilst flashing a smile!
Other areas where it could be used include attendance system in school, colleges and offices, voting, public distribution of food grains/cereals, tagging during clinical trials, consumer satisfaction scoring at POS, patient satisfaction scoring at the end of therapy or discharge. As I said, this can go on and on.
We Indians are known across the world to be very emotional. Some smartass company may, in fact, develop a next-generation Facial Expression recognition system/FERS to identify a potential buyer from window shoppers or a criminal who may harm someone in a fit of rage or revenge from law abiding citizens.
I don’t know what the future holds, but it appears both very comforting and scary. We may have a safe world to live in, but with relative or restricted freedom.
As I type these thoughts, I hear my wife scream in a shrill voice asking me to come over and capture a quick photograph of my lovely daughter. I rush to the spot, flip my iPhone out and take a portrait pic of both of them in the best of their moods. When I open the photo gallery, it gets me worried on how my big brother will use this facial data in years to come… to continue staring at US!