I remember going to see Minority Report when I was in high school. The movie was lacklustre, but one thing stuck out in my mind – the custom advertisements that reacted to Tom Cruise’s eyes.
For those of you who don’t remember or skipped the movie, the premise was this: advertisements (or billboards in this case) would scan Tom Cruise’s eyes as he walked by to identify him. After identification, these ads would give custom recommendations to our hero based on his data and previous purchases.
Futurist real time data at its finest.
However, headlines in recent weeks have been covering stories that seem like they could have be ripped straight from this dis-utopian world.
Real time data and facial recognition are no longer science fiction- they have become science fact.
What is it?
An individual’s face can be as unique as a fingerprint. It might even be more reliable, as a face won’t smudge or streak on surfaces.
Every face has numerous, unique features. There are the surface identifiers, like scars or skin tone, but there are also deeper, structural landmarks. These include:
- Distance between the eyes
- Width of the nose
- Depth of the eye sockets
- The shape of the cheekbones
- The length of the jaw line
Most of us can recognize our friends and family by a quick glance at their faces. It happens so quickly most of us don’t even think about it. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but for the sake of length we’re going to skip them for now).
What Facial Recognition technology does is try to give that ability to a computer or algorithm.
As with most innovations we discuss on this blog, this isn’t a new idea.
It began in the mid 1960s. Scientists began to work on using computers to recognize human faces. Since those first tentative steps, the technology has come a long way.
Until recently, facial recognition software used a 2D image database to identify individuals.
For this to work, the subject needed to be looking directly at the camera. There could be little variance in light or facial expression between the database image, and the one that was being identified.
Obviously, very few pictures met this strict criteria, so facial recognition failed more often than it succeeded.
But technology never truly remains stagnant, and that’s doubly so in the digital revolution.
Facial recognition technology just made the leap from 2D to 3D. New software uses a 3D model, which allows for much looser criteria when comparing photos.
3D software uses the distinctive features of a face – the eyes, nose, and bone structure – to identify the subject.
Instead of relying on lighting or expression, this new technology relies on the structure of the face itself. It makes the software more reliable and less fallible.
Although these police divisions are not being led by Tom Cruise, law enforcement agencies the world over are using this technology to their advantage.
Take the FBI for example. They have just finished developing the Next Generation Identification System.
This system is now fully operational and is being used.
The FBI announced two services last fall that completed the system.
- Rap Back allows officials to receive “ongoing status notifications” about reported criminal history of people “in positions of trust, such as schoolteachers.”
- Interstate Photo System. This is the big one. This is a facial-recognition program that allows law-enforcement to cross-reference photographic images with criminal databases in real time.
In short, the Interstate Photo System lets the FBI use facial recognition.
Privacy groups don’t like The Next Generation Identification system for obvious reasons. They have repeated time and time again that this system ignores privacy laws.
They claim the lack of oversight raises serious civil liberty and privacy concerns.
Also, This system is largely untested. A report from 2010 found that the Interstate Photo System could potentially fail one in every five times it was used. That could lead to a lot of false positives. As it stands, that is a rate of failure higher than traditional fingerprinting – smudges and all.
Dubai is another example of facial recognition being used by law enforcement. That Dubai is using this highly experimental technology should come as so surprise – this is a culture where the police use top of the line sports cars to keep up with the rich population.
Reports indicate they have moved one step closer to achieving real time facial recognition by adding it to Google Glass.
Did I mention that the Dubai police department will get to use Google Glass? I hope they don’t have to buy their own uniforms!
According to a Dubai Police representative, this software allows police to identify criminals’ faces and alert the detective through the glasses.
This initiative will be rolled out in two phases.
- In the first phase, the technology will be used to fight traffic violations and any other vehicular offences.
- In the second phase, the police Detectives will get a chance to use the wearables in their day to day crime solving business.
The New York City police department is also testing this. They began using Google Glass at the beginning of 2014, but have not yet posted the results of their tests.
Science fiction or science fact?
This technology has far reaching implications as well. It is becoming present in many different companies – not just law enforcement. Check out some of the ways that this technology is being used by businesses right now!
Mastercard claims it has completed a “successful” facial recognition payments trial.
Mastercard tested a beta mobile app on over 140 000 transactions. These tests involved Mastercard employees from around the world using both iOS and Android devices.
Every laugh at the Teatrenu comedy club in Barcelona will cost you 0.30 euros, with a price cap of 24 euros.
That’s right! Facial recognotion is being used to charger per laugh at this comedy club. The software is installed on the back of the seat in front of the customer.
The project was developed to combat falling audience numbers.
Partnering with advertising agency The Cyranos McCann, the experiment was a reaction to increased government taxes on theatre tickets, which in turn led to drops in audience numbers.
The results of the experiment have so far proved positive with ticket prices up by 6 euros, according to the theatre.
The system was so successful, it is now being copied in other theatres around Spain.
A number of people have tried, and reportedly failed, to sit through a comedy show without laughing in an attempt to get a free ticket.