09 February 2012

Facial recognition. Cool or Creepy?

I went and saw the latest Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and regardless of whether you liked it or not I saw something interesting in the opening scene. An agent is trying to find someone in a crowd, but he hasn't as in olden days studied the person so much he can pick him out even in a crowd. He has a way to scan the entire crowd with his phone and that identifies the target. Wild and crazy, right? Handy for agents anyway.

Then I saw this completely serious article that is a discussion of the privacy concerns of facial recognition. I realized as I started reading that there are already sites like Flickr and Facebook using facial recognition software.

I started thinking are the days of privacy winding down to an end. Will we give up anonymity for security in finding the latest bad guy?

Even more interesting, will we give up our opportunity of anonymity for convenience? After all, isn't it handy when Facebook finds the person and says start typing the name to tag the person. You don't have to do all the work of a graphic artist just to show your friends the picture you took of them last night.

I don't have any plot items in mind, but it seems that I am not alone in thinking the idea of facial recognition can be abused a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission is asking questions too. I wonder if you could include in a Sci-Fi story that detective use facial recognition to catch cheating spouses via the internet or tapping into security camera networks.  I could see a plot point where government agents gone bad hunt people on the run.
I haven't read anything using this in the story line but I'm sure I will.

No more blending into the crowd, huh?


  1. Definitely cool, but very, very creepy. Sorry if this is a little long, but I've thought a bit about this.

    What I foresee happening is that facial recognition cellphone apps (or perhaps apps in specialized glasses) will be tied to apps that perform background checks. But not just checks on criminal records and newspapers, but psychological assessments of people based on things like movie rankings, the collection of people you're connected to on social networking sites, and from whatever publicly-accessible writing you've done. What I foresee is that as you're walking through the crowd if you take a picture of of focus on an individual it will not only identify that person, it will also present a display like...

    John Doe
    Age: 47
    Politics: 40% Dem, 36% Repub, %14 Lib, %10 Green
    Status: Divorced and available.
    Psych: Extroverted. Friendly in initial interactions, but loses interest with people. Commitment issues.
    Likely Response to Greeting: Excitement for a few seconds.
    Fears: Responsibility, Clowns
    Arrests/tickets: DUI(2), Moving Violations(4)

    The stuff above is close to possible now. Some day it'll get more advanced than that.

  2. Yes, creepy indeed. As an American, I don't like to see privacy invaded nor like the sensation that it is going to happen no matter what!