Facing up to face recognition
There have been a flurry of reports about a man wanted by police in China who was found at a concert among more than 50,000 people thanks to face recognition tech
I’m generally wary of stories that get passed via multiple news outlets on their way out of China, and this fits the easy narrative of China using tech in scarily oppressive ways. So, while I’m not going to say for sure that this definitely happened exactly as reported, we know that similar tech has been used to publicly shame jaywalkers
among other things.
It can only be a matter of time before police use this kind of approach in the West. We’ve already seen venues in the USA like Madison Square Garden get caught secretly scanning visitors’ faces
. Given today’s news roundup above that shows just how easy it is to develop a false sense of security around how technology is used, maybe our faces are
already scanned against our will.
It feels difficult to imagine a future where our faces aren’t scanned routinely multiple times a day. Sure, privacy advocates will kick up a fuss, but the ‘it’s all to make you safer from the bad guys’ argument tends to win all too easily.
When I walk through my local city centre, I’m continually watched by surveillance cameras. Face recognition would be a worrying upgrade to these systems that would raise all sorts of concerns of police stalking and harassing people, and the government keeping a strict tabs on citizens.
But I have a feeling we’d adapt to a world where we could be identified by 'the authorities.’ If the technology’s use was kept low key so that people didn’t think about it in their day to day lives, it would become like those existing surveillance cameras – something you just don’t think about that much.
On a subconscious level though, it would probably make us a more compliant, submissive society, with the constant low-level awareness that anything you do publicly could be attributed directly back to you. That’s not a good thing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Just like nothing is private on the internet, the world of analytics, attribution and continual monitoring is coming to the real world. And just like in the online world, maybe we won’t be all that bothered.