Why ubiquitous facial recognition tech is a game changer

Facial recognition and artificial intelligence could remove all of the privacy we have come to expect, says Intrepid Corporation's chief scientist Lance Cottrell.

Why ubiquitous facial recognition tech is a game changer

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Lance Cottrell, Intrepid Corporation's chief scientist about how facial recognition and artificial intelligence could remove all of the privacy we have come to expect. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Lance Cottrell: There're are really two different kinds of facial recognition technologies, and they have different privacy implications. We often see those getting confused. There's the facial recognition on your phone or other device that could unlock it where it's a biometric kind of thing. And then, there's facial recognition where you're being spotted in a crowd and being recognized as a criminal, or they're looking at everyone coming into a sports situation. It's really removing all of the privacy that we've come to expect in public places.

Now ordinarily, when you're walking down the street, you assume that you're private and anonymous and no one's gonna really know who you are or where you went. But with these emerging capabilities, we're rapidly moving into an environment where we're all being identified and tracked all the time, even in public.

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There's a number of different organizations that are creating their own facial recognition. So, all the big players, the Amazons, Facebooks, Googles are all working on this problem, as well as in the public sphere, putting it into stores. So, you're seeing facial recognition used in online environments as well as in offline environments by both private entities. Stores and so forth. But then, of course, law enforcement and government. So, because the United States has such a decentralized law enforcement structure, it's very hard to keep track of which different precincts, which different law enforcement organizations may be deploying this kind of facial recognition technology.

But, certainly we've seen very early and aggressive adoption in England, where they've put together government networks of cameras throughout London, which are being very actively tracked and using facial recognition to try to identify criminals and terrorists.

There's a number of different potential victims of this facial recognition technology and, in some cases, it's very specific. So, if you're trying to find and track a terrorist, someone who planted a bomb, someone who committed a mugging, then that's not something that most people need to be too concerned about.

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However, facial recognition in stores or in sporting events or for marketing purposes could easily become ubiquitous and then, that's applying to all of us. And, of course, once a network of observation is in place that's in the private sector, you know this information is gonna be sold and marketed. So, it's very plausible that you may find cameras in every advertising sign by the side of the road, all networking to track where you're going. Who went into that high-value store? Who spent a lot of time at Tiffany's? Maybe we should work out who they are and advertise to them more.

So, an argument is often made that facial recognition and other tracking technologies make it possible to target ads in a way that people actually want. They don't want to be seeing ads. If you're a man, you don't wanna be seeing ads for feminine hygiene supplies. It's not relevant to you. But at the same time, I'd like to only have them targeting things that I want to be targeted. I really don't want them collecting personal information that's not appropriate to the ads or that might, in fact, show ads that I would find embarrassing or problematic. So, we can't say that this is something that people are generally interested in.

Image: Dan Patterson