Ng: Recognizing faces

IN the aftermath of the 9/11 attack and the subsequent media-depicted increase in terrorism, technology is being pushed at an arms-race.

Improved security measures are constantly being encouraged, where one such improvement is the use of facial recognition software—particularly the one being implemented in Australia.

Thirty or so years ago, we had to manually fill out our passport and flight details during every departure. Today, biometrics and facial recognition are bringing a new level of convenience.

In many airports throughout Asia, I see frequent travelers just have their passports or even national IDs scanned, and verify themselves through fingerprint authentication. Australia is trying to introduce a system where you don’t even have to present your passport when you land. Your face and passport/visa is scanned and encoded by the agent in your home country. After you fly to their country, you will just pass the kiosk that will scan your face, recognize you, and then allow you to enter while electronically updating the system that you have arrived.

Gone are the days where we had to wait in endless lines for a tired travel attendant to scrutinize our faces, making sure they matched our passports.

Using facial recognition software actually not only brings ease, but added security. Tests show that some people are no good matching real photographs and the real person. It should not be too difficult to put on makeup to resemble the person in the photograph.

Soon, frontline operations such as visa checking, immigration, and boarding will be automated and processed at a speed and level of accuracy no human can keep up with.

In a recent trip to Japan for a technology convention, I passed by a booth selling facial recognition software where they took my photo and name. After I returned the next day and passed by their booth again, the system was able to single out my face out of a huge crowd and note the time of day I had previously visited their booth.

In China, facial recognition software has been implemented in public restrooms to control the amount of toilet paper being dispensed to each individual. The system recognizes your face, and will not give you additional toilet paper for at least another 10 minutes.

Classrooms are also being outfitted with this technology to monitor student attention during each lesson. If you’ve heard of the China’s ambitious plan to become something like Big Brother to its citizens, then you’ll know the level of scrutiny its citizens face—where the violations for social and traffic rules result in point deductions that have corresponding social restrictions ( bans).

The development of this technology brings to light the issue of control: How much are we willing to hand over to machines? Remember that there is also the risk that comes with storing our biometric identification (i.e. face and fingerprints) across multiple networks.

However, I for one, am truly excited at the sprawling heights that technology and human ingenuity will undoubtedly bring us to.


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