Wilson Ng

Wired Desktop

YOU know all those times when you recognize by face someone on the street but can’t quite remember who they are?

I remember over 20 years ago when scanners started to be introduced that one of the things we were perpetually asked was whether face recognition was possible. Of course, at that time it could not be done. Some artificial intelligence tasks like recognizing handwritten notes or understanding the spoken language are easy for a human but notoriously difficult for a computer. So while a computer can probably add or multiply millions of numbers in a second (humans can probably do less than 5), even the most popular computers cannot do what humans can do--- recognize handwriting or faces. That shows that the supposed intelligence of computers is entirely different from ours, no matter how it mimics how a human brain works.

Lately, however, there have been big improvements in biometrics.

I now have a netbook that uses face recognition to enable me to log into the computer. Another notebook uses my thumbprint to authenticate myself, instead of my having to remember a password.

Other than for security purposes, there are many other potential applications for biometrics. I just read about a new application from a Swedish company called Recognizr, which also runs on smartphones. The premise of the software is simple. If you meet somebody and can’t remember who he or she is, you just snap a picture using your cellphone. The phone will then try to compare the image with your contacts database and tell you who the person is. That it can be done using a cellphone’s processing power means that the technology has vastly improved.

Meanwhile, I just finished reading an interesting article on how the US used social networking technology in order to catch Saddam Hussein. This was done even before the time of Facebook.

What the US did was to understand the friends of Saddam and try to come up with a sophisticated analysis of the ruler.

They start with the assumption that if Hussein was in hiding, obviously he needed the help of some people. By analyzing and identifying the people he trusted and would probably approach for help, they could help locate the dictator. They expanded to searching for the friends of his friends.

Ultimately, one of Hussein’s trusted bodyguards led the forces to the former dictator. What happened is further proof of the adage that you’d know the person by the friends he or she keeps.

For many of us, such friends and all our interactions, pictures, writings, and activities with them are now very public and exposed in sites like Facebook.

I think we just have to get comfortable with that because it seems that there is no more turning back once Pandora’s box has been opened. (www.ngkhai.net/bizdrivenlife)