(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘facial recognition

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”*…

When to breathe easy– and when to worry…

When people worry about the impact of a new technology, often they worry it’ll set us on a path to ruin.

Sometimes they’re freaking out for no good reason. New technologies — particularly ones that affect communication, or give young people new abilities — unsettle people all the time, but don’t wreck the world. In the past, people worried that the telephone would destroy face-to-face conversation, that the portable camera would destroy all public privacy, and that pinball would turn kids into delinquents.

In each case, critics worried that the new technology would make people’s behavior a bit worse, and then that change would cause even more bad results, and on and on. We’d be on a “slippery slope” to ruin! (Indeed, cities like New York actually banned pinball for forty years — from the mid-30s to the mid-70s.)

This is why, in the worlds of philosophy and technology, “slippery slope” arguments are often regarded as kind of flimsy. Often, critics are just personally miffed by the new behaviors midwived by technology. But no social ruin is at hand.

Sometimes, though, a slippery slope is real. In the early days of the automobile, some critics feared cars would take over city streets — and that we’d get so addicted to car travel that we’d rebuild the whole country around cars. Those critics nailed it. That really did happen. The same thing goes with Facebook or other social media; some early critics (like the philosopher Ian Bogost) predicted they’d poison social and civic life. Again: Nailed it.

But how do you tell the difference? How do you know when you’re facing a technology that might lead us down a real slippery slope — versus a tech that you’re just annoyed by?…

Does a new technology pose serious dangers — or are we just overreacting? Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99) talks to philosopher Evan Selinger (@EvanSelinger) about how to tell: “How To Recognize When Tech Is Leading Us Down a ‘Slippery Slope’

For a current warning from the aforementioned Ian Bogost (@ibogost), see “The Metaverse Is Bad.”

* the prescient Philip K. Dick

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As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that the first transcontinental telegram was sent from Stephen J. Field, the Chief Justice of California, to President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC.

In the temporary absence of the Governor of the State I am requested to send you the first message which will be transmitted over the wires of the telegraph Line which Connect the Pacific with the Atlantic States the People of California desire to Congratulate you upon the Completion of the great work.

They believe that it will be the means of strengthening the attachment which bind both the East & West to the Union & they desire in this the first message across the continent to express their loyalty to that Union & their determination to stand by the Government in this its day of trial They regard that Government with affection & will adhere to it under all fortunes

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“Why do people respect the package rather than the man?”*…

 

Alphonse Bertillon’s Tableau synoptic des traits physionomiques was essentially a cheat sheet to help police clerks put into practice his pioneering method for classifying and archiving the images (and accompanying details) of repeat offenders, a system known as bertillonage. Beginning his career as a records clerk in the Parisian police department, Bertillon, the child of two statisticians and endowed with an obsessive love of order, soon became exasperated with the chaos of the files on offenders. The problem was particularly acute when it came to identifying offenders as repeat offenders (recidivists), given that the person in question could simply provide a false name. Before Bertillon, to find the files of the accused (or if there was even one already existing) the police would have to sift through the notorious “rogues’ gallery”, a disorganised mess of photographic portraits of past offenders, and hope for a visual match.

Bertillon’s solution was to develop a rigorous system of classification, or “signalment”, to help organise these photographs. This involved — in addition to taking simple measurements of the head, body, and extremities — breaking down the criminal’s physiognomy into discrete and classifiable elements (the curl of ear, fold of brow, inclination of chin). What in other contexts might be the much loved (or reviled) expressions of a personality, in Bertillon’s world become simply units of information. Taking a note of these, as well as individual markings such as scars or tattoos, and personality characteristics, Bertillon could produce a composite formula that could then be tied to a photographic portrait and name, all displayed on a single card, a portrait parlé (a speaking portrait). These cards were then systematically archived and cross-indexed, to make the task of linking a reticent offender with a possible criminal past, infinitely easier. Put into practise in 1883, the system was hugely effective and was soon adopted by police forces across the channel, before spreading throughout Europe and the Americas, (though without Bertillon’s obsessive eye overseeing proceedings, its foreign adventures were not a complete success).

Key to the whole endeavour, of course, was the new exactitude of representation afforded by photography, though this was still an exactitude limited to a particular moment. Over time faces change, a fact which rendered Bertillon’s system less than perfect. With the call for an identifier more fixed than the measurements of an inevitably changing face, and a system less complex, bertillonage was eventually, by the beginning of the 20th century, supplanted by the new kid on the forensic science block — fingerprinting

An early ancestor of today’s Age of Surveillance: “Alphonse Bertillon’s Synoptic Table of Physiognomic Traits (ca. 1909).”

* Michel de Montaigne

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As we try on a Privacy Visor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

Now you don’t…

Adam Harvey is a graduate student in NYU’s fabled ITP Program who is putting his considerable talents to work in the service of privacy.  His thesis work, CV Dazzle, is aiming at finding ways to confound computer facial recognition systems. As The Register reports:

Concerned about the proliferation of face recognition systems in public places, a grad student in New York is developing privacy-enhancing hacks designed to thwart the futuristic surveillance technology.

Using off-the-shelf makeup and accessories such as glasses, veils, and artificial hair, Adam Harvey’s master’s thesis combines hipster fashion aesthetics with hardcore reverse engineering of face detection software. The goal: to give individuals a low-cost and visually stimulating means to prevent their likenesses from being detected and cataloged by face-recognition monitors.

“The number of sensors that are going into the public spaces has been increasing,” said Harvey, a student in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program. “There’s a lot of work to be done to catch up to where cameras are going because there have been so many advances in the last few years.”

Although still in its adolescence, face recognition technology is quickly being adopted by governments and corporations to identify individuals whose images are captured by surveillance cameras. At the 2001 Super Bowl, for instance, officials digitized the faces of everyone entering Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and compared the results against photographic lists of known malefactors.

But Harvey has discovered that face detection can often be thrown off by using makeup to alter the contrasts the technology looks for. For example, dark patterns applied around eyes and cheek bones, as in the image below, are one such possibility.

[full article here]

[see more on Harvey’s blog here]

Harvey asks, “How can hats, sunglasses, makeup, earrings, necklaces or other accessories be modified to become functional and decorative?”; and he explains “The aim of my thesis is not to aid criminals, but since artists sometimes look like criminals and vice versa, it is important to protect individual privacy for everyone.”

As we rework our pick-up lines, we might take inspiration from the memory that it was on this date in 1810 that Beethoven wrote Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano– better known as “Für Elise” (click to hear).

Some scholars have suggested that “Elise” was Beethoven’s mistress; but others have suggested that the discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named “Für Therese”–  Therese being Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, a friend and student of Beethoven’s to whom he proposed in 1810… not actually so encouraging as an example, since though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik… still, a beautiful piece…

The famous opening bars

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