Some academics are urging increased technology controls, in the wake of recent anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in France and South Africa, but government agencies are more cautious.
In these days of low trust in big tech, the prediction is that facial recognition will become ubiquitous.
Instagram already allows you to take a picture of a face and instantly determine whether the pictured person is an adult or a child, and if they’re female. Such technology is threatening to take away the ability of human beings to discern which is the real person when faced with blurred backgrounds, simulated individuals, or a phony photograph of oneself. And as we start to realize just how comfortable people are with this technology, authoritarian regimes are licking their chops in anticipation of making use of the new tools at their disposal to suppress certain populations.
In the past week, police in South Africa used facial recognition to catch fugitives, even if the criminals hadn’t been located in a month. In the United States, Amazon has been criticized for allowing the government to use its facial recognition system—the Axon brand—for searches such as the “Find a Kidnapper” feature.
Pfizer is sharing its facial recognition technology for its drug discovery programs with certain police departments in Florida and Colorado and with drug companies like Merck and AbbVie.
It’s easy to understand the safety concerns. Studies have shown that having to re-read papers and transcripts to see if people are who they say they are—also known as “content mismatch”—can be debilitating.
Yet a growing number of technologists believe that increased surveillance is inevitable, or at least necessary for maintaining order. At least for governments looking to control unpopular populations, the technology is here now and available now. As Americans become more aware of what we are doing with technology, however, the country will be forced to confront the far-reaching and far-reaching problems inherent in the building of these new systems and the ripple effects they will have on our political and social institutions.
Recently, a prominent tech entrepreneur gave a public lecture about his worries about a dystopian future, in which masked soldiers invade homes, quell dissenters, and imprison common folk. His reasoning: Facial recognition software is the defining “data-tree” of a digital “sharing society.” He insisted that it has no place in democratic societies, and that it should only be used by the police in the U.S. and Europe.