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“Can you see me now?” Facial recognition technology is getting smarter

3/30/2012 12:00:00 PM

A couple of recent news stories have highlighted the impressive – and sometimes alarming – progress that is being made in facial recognition technology.

First, there was the report that Japanese company Hitachi Kokusai Electric has developed a surveillance camera system that can recognize specific faces by comparing them to a database of up to 36 million other faces in just one second. Rather than relying on a single image, the system takes visual data directly from the camera to compare faces in real time. The software groups faces with similar features – blue eyes, high cheekbones, say – so it can quickly narrow down the field.

While the usefulness of such speedy facial recognition to law enforcement is obvious, it could have many other uses, like hastening customs and immigration procedures, or assisting businesses by identifying previous customers.

Then there was the news that facial recognition company Face.com is working on an application than can scan a face or a photo to determine a person’s age. Face.com has already built a couple of Facebook apps that can scan photos and automatically tag them, but now it’s looking to extend that technology into age detection.

While using a camera to determine someone’s age may sound a little creepy, there may eventually be real benefits. Imagine adult-oriented web sites that are protected by an app that requires a face scan before you can get past the home page. The web cam is activated and the facial recognition technology determines whether you are over 18. Similarly, bars and liquor stores would no longer have to accept those fake IDs. A camera scans the features of customers and makes its own determination as to whether they are of legal drinking age.

Facial recognition technology is already in everyday use. You can secure some computers and laptops by requiring a facial scan when you log in; there are apps that use facial recognition to unlock your phone; and Microsoft’s Kinect gaming system utilizes a form of facial recognition to log in gamers and bring up relevant avatars.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about how banks may be able to virtually eliminate credit card fraud by requiring a facial scan at the point of sale, whether it’s in a store or online; how a shared school computer will automatically switch profiles based on the face of the student that sits down in front of the screen; how airports and other sensitive locations can recognize known terrorists or trouble-makers as soon as they walk through the door.

Of course, better facial recognition technology will raise more privacy concerns. It’s OK when we want to be recognized but what about when we would rather remain anonymous? Sadly, that option appears to be getting harder by the minute. If you want to remain anonymous in the future, you may have to wear a mask!

Is improved facial recognition technology a good thing? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Debby Bruck, posted 4/11/2012, 6:23 PM:

Every day we hear of technology that will make our lives simpler and easier, while at the same time some loss of privacy or self reliance occurs simultaneously. We should also have caution who uses these technologies without our knowledge to take something from the individual. We have all experienced this at airports and the use of scanners and going through credit checks, opening bags and pat-downs. The most important lessons of this decade will be defining the moral values. Blessings, Debby
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