5 Reasons to Be Terrified That Computers Can Now Read Faces
The ability of computers to recognize faces is so common now that your Xbox Kinect can do it, logging you in the moment you step in front of the thing. It seems like a fairly harmless invention -- if anything, it will save you a few seconds when (for instance) your future house will recognize that it's you at the door instead of a burglar. But this technology is going in a series of extremely creepy directions.
Recognizing you is just the beginning -- the goal is to create software that can all but read your goddamned mind. Don't believe us? Because the technology exists so that ...
Your Employer (and Everyone Else) Can Constantly Monitor Your Mood
If you've ever worked in customer service, you know that you're expected to smile, even if you're having a really shitty day. But it's OK, you can just fake it, right? Not anymore! Thanks to miraculous advancements in computers' ability to read your face, there is software out there that can tell if your toothy grin is genuine or not. It's already being used -- in Japan, railway staff are now required to check their smile every morning with a Smile Scan.
No, that is not a hoax article, as far as we can tell. In a scene that would have seemed unrealistic in a sci-fi movie about a dystopian corporate future, employees must sit in front of a camera and let a computer program scan their expression and tell them whether their smile is smiley enough or if it needs work. Presumably a bad score earns them a severe electric shock.
Please think it's real, please think it's real, please think it's real ...
Not that you'll be able to escape this when you leave your customer service job. Want to know if your date was really enjoying herself the other night? You can upload a picture of your outing on GladorSad.com and they'll analyze it for you and tell you if she was secretly hoping that a meteor would strike the restaurant.
And of course companies are already trying to brainstorm ways to use this technology to sell you things. Microsoft is even thinking about programming the next generation of Kinect cameras to watch you in your own home and detect your mood. With this information, they can run targeted advertisements based on how it thinks you're feeling.
He's playing Kinect Star Wars! Quick, cue up a Zoloft commercial!
But all of this is just scratching the surface of the "computers know what you're feeling and thinking at all times" revolution. For instance, researchers at MIT are developing software that can read the emotions of whole crowds. They expect to be able to get information from sporting events, speeches and movie screenings to see how the masses really feel, and there's speculation that it may eventually replace opinion polls. Don't see the problem with that? Well, one of the fears concerning this technology is that, no kidding, dictators could use it to determine which portions of the population don't like them, thereby pre-emptively crushing rebellions. Yes, we've actually invented technology to detect thought crimes.
Software Will Monitor Whether You're Paying Attention
So now they've got the technology to make sure customer service workers are keeping a smile frozen on their face every second of the day. But what about those of us in regular old desk jobs? What employers really need is a robot supervisor that can lurk over our shoulders, making sure we're 100 percent invested in our task at all times, every day. They've totally got it.
Again, there are sensible applications of this technology -- car manufacturer Saab has started installing cameras in their vehicles that watch your eyes while you drive -- if you blink too much, or look at something that isn't directly in front of you, an alarm sounds and tells you to get your shit together and pay attention. Well, that sounds helpful -- it'll be nice to know that the guy in the oncoming lane is watching the road instead of drifting off to sleep or texting his girlfriend. But, of course, it doesn't stop there.
It'll also tell you when you've died!
For instance, do you tend to let your attention drift during class? New technology being developed for educators can watch you in the classroom and read your expression and posture to detect whether you're bored or not paying enough attention. In the future, lecturers might be able to call you out in class for letting your mind wander, or your boss might be able to detect how often your eyes roam away from his PowerPoint presentation.
How long until every cubicle has one of these cameras at the workstation, printing out a report at the end of the day showing down to the decimal point what percentage of the time wasn't focused intently on your screen? But you've never had an off day at work, right? Never gotten sleepy at around two in the afternoon? And you surely haven't developed a series of techniques to merely appear busy when the boss walks by. Because if so, you'd better prepare for the era of total workplace transparency.
"Yeah, you like it when mama grabs your big hard- oh hey, Mr. Hamill! Just talking to a customer."
But that really just leads to the larger point ...
You'll Soon Be Hooked to a Lie Detector, 24/7
Remember that TV show about the genius played by Tim Roth who would always tell if somebody was lying by studying microscopic movements of their face? That was partly based on science -- there are some facial muscles you can't consciously control, which can betray your true feelings when you're telling a lie. In reality, it's almost impossible for another person to detect them ... but they're developing facial recognition software that can.
Of course, the goal right now is to catch criminals -- in Russia, they're putting out ATMs that use voice and facial cues to determine your identity and tell if you're being deceptive about your credit card application. And in England, they're experimenting with new security cameras at airports that watch your face while you talk, looking for any hint of duplicity. How good are these machines at reading human emotions? Recent tests put the best algorithms at 82.5 percent accuracy. That's a better rate than trained human interrogators.
"I know you're actually a 70-year-old Italian man! Admit it! ADMIT IT!"
Well, great, who wants a world with more credit fraud or people at the airport lying about having a bomb? Wouldn't a world where everybody tells the truth all the time be some kind of Utopia?
Sure, as long as you have absolutely no secrets you want to keep from anyone, anywhere, ever -- nothing about your personal life, your political beliefs, your sexuality, your past, or anything else. How many of us can even get through one afternoon without telling a harmless lie? Can you imagine if your computer knew whether you actually did read and agree with all the terms and conditions? Imagine if managers had a camera that could detect little deceits during a job interview. Are we being cynical when we say that tiny little lies are kind of the glue that holds all of society together? And that whoever owns instant lie detection software immediately holds all of the power in every possible situation?
Get used to doing a lot of this.
Hell, there are already dating websites that match you with potential mates by your facial characteristics. Can you imagine if they could also tell whether you were lying? If we took lying out of the dating process, we're pretty sure the human race would go extinct. But that just brings us to our next point ...
Dating Is About to Get Really Creepy
You know what the dating scene needs? Total transparency. If you're a young, single lady, wouldn't it be awesome to walk into a club and have the club instantly know everything about you, and to transmit that information to all of the dudes in a 5-mile radius? And for them to then instantly have the ability to know where you live and work? We mean, it's not like there are any douchebags still left on earth.
First, nightclubs and venues can now use facial recognition cameras mounted at the entrance to detect the female-to-male ratio of their clientele and send the information straight to an app called SceneTap. And the makers of the software have bigger plans for it -- a recent patent application filed by SceneTap describes a system that will one day be able to tell race, height, weight, attractiveness, hair color, clothing type and the presence of facial hair or glasses. And it doesn't stop at just helping you avoid hipsters -- they're also interested in trying to tie this app in with social networking websites and databases to determine "relationship status, intelligence, education and income for the entire venue."
"Douchebag Saturation at 81 percent and rising. Break out the Pabst."
And once the dudes flock to the club where they know all of the ladies of a certain demographic are hanging out (or vice versa), a surreptitious phone pic of a hot girl's face will give a guy everything he needs to know. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University figured out that from a random photo of a guy they were able to learn his real name, his private information, even his Social Security number, from information available elsewhere online. From there, it was a snap to create an iPhone app that could do it on the fly -- take a picture, and a few seconds later the screen displays his name and vital statistics.
Hell, you don't even need a real photograph. Law enforcement has new algorithms that they can use to figure out your identity from just a sketch of your face. So you can only hope that the creepy guy at the bar who you gave the wrong phone number to doesn't have access to a cellphone with a camera, or even any level of artistic ability. Otherwise you may get a strongly worded letter in your mailbox stapled to a dead rodent.
"About that drink ..."
Businesses Will Know Where You Are, and Who You Are, at All Times
Of course, retail outlets already have cameras set up all over the place to stop you from stealing their shit, but what if there's a way to use them and facial recognition software to spot you and then spam you with sales messages once you're through the door? Of course, to make that work, the software would need instant access to some kind of huge database of customer photos and personal preferences. And where would they ever find something like th- oh, right. Facebook.
And thus we have apps like Facedeals, which snap into action whenever someone with a Facebook profile passes in front of their cameras. The software runs your face through its database of "tagged" Facebook photos until it figures out who you are. Then it checks out your "like" history to find out what you're into, and sends coupons to your smartphone before you even realize you've been spotted. Oh, and it also "checks you in" automatically so that everyone in your friends list knows which store you just walked into. And really, who doesn't want businesses to track their every move on the off chance that it might get them 20 percent off on a pair of shoes?
It's a small sacrifice for this level of comfort.
Of course, this is still an opt-in service right now -- you have to download the app. But from the businesses' end, that's purely by choice -- there's nothing in the law that even requires a company to tell you it's using facial recognition software on you, let alone using it to market stuff to you. In America (and most countries), there is no right to privacy when you're walking around in public. That's why advertisers can do things like install cameras in billboards to gather useful information about the people looking at them.
But businesses also want to know who the bad customers are. For instance, do you have a reputation for partying too hard? That's a shame, because another app called BioBouncer records the faces of bar patrons and matches them against known troublemakers. Imagine getting into a screaming match with some asshole at a bar, only to find that you've now been instantly blacklisted from every bar in town.
"No, I just need to take a crap and then start a fight!"
And if you think you can just put on a disguise to fool the system, keep in mind that the people working on facial recognition tech aren't stupid -- they know that you're already thinking of just slapping on a fake goatee and some sunglasses and disappearing from the grid. That's why researchers at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton have come out with an algorithm that can account for shades and novelty facial hair. In this dark future, once you're banned from Hooters, you are always banned from Hooters.
Or, you know, an oppressive government could also use it to track dissidents wherever they go. But we wanted to keep things lighthearted.
"Overthrow Sweden? Us? No, sir, we're Groucho Marx."
You can support Monte's struggle against the machines by checking out his comic strip over at RealToyGun.com.
For more reasons to be frightened by technology, check out 5 Ways Video Games Are About to Get Way More F#@kable and 6 New Spy Technologies You Literally Can't Hide From.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 10 Celebrity Twitter Accounts We Lost in 2012.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to switch your eyes out, Minority Report style.
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