Your Face Is Your Calling Card

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Smile your way to the bank
The value of a smile has changed over the years. In 1958, researchers analysed yearbook photos to understand what a genuine smile looked like. The subjects were all of 22 when these photos were taken. Five years later, they found that the more these women were smiling in their yearbook photos, the more likely they were to be married. Another study found that the more they were smiling in their yearbook photos, the more they report being satisfied in their marriage at age 52.

In September 2017, a KFC outlet in Hangzhou, China installed a face recognition payment system that lets customers pay with a smile and their mobile phone number. The Chinese government has a database of 700 million citizens. Hundreds of millions of cameras all over China are recording the faces. This massive database is growing every minute and their algorithms are getting better and better because they are not shackled by legislation around data privacy that many other countries have. The government uses it to track jaywalkers and thieves. The New Zealand Customs Services uses face recognition through a microchip in the e-passport to verify the owner of the passport.

Paypal and Mastercard have been practising their moves to get your face onto their database. Lloyds Bank uses it to let people log into their accounts. Many bank ATMs use it to identify customers.

It is everywhere

Apple’s iPhone X has sensors that map 30,000 points on your face and is backed by AI. The face recognition system is powerful enough to let you unlock your phone in the dark. If Apple offers a feature, can Samsung be far behind? Microsoft, Amazon and IBM are already using face recognition. Google Photos can cluster photos of the same person by using an algorithm.

Facebook’s face recognition software is now better than a human’s ability to recognise faces. Every time you “tag” someone in a photo, you’re helping to train an already powerful system to recognise your friend’s face.

My Surface Pro uses face recognition to give me access. Others will need to use a password. It is convenient. And cute. And it is also getting me used to the idea of my face being my identity. Casinos use it to identify gamblers. Some retailers are using customers photos to design loyalty programmes.

Soon your employer will use it too

Already face recognition technology is better at predicting the sexuality of a person more accurately than humans. Knowing an applicant is straight or gay could add a bias to an already complex process.

Humans have a tough time managing their own biases while hiring. That is why women coders get more appreciation when their screen names do not identify their gender. In many countries it is illegal to add a photo to the resume as it gives away the ethnicity of the individual.

In India several people have dropped parts of their name that gives away their caste. We can change our name and take on a different name. But we cannot change our face. The databases can already recognise our photos through make up and eyewear. The tech is getting better.

Face recognition does not stop at that. Researchers are working to predict intelligence levels and ethnicity by analysing photos. Unilever uses HireVue that uses this technology to analyse key words, intonation and body language and makes notes on them for the hiring manager. All of this portion can be completed on a smartphone or tablet.

Social interaction will be affected

When someone asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” and the response expected is, “Not at all”, imagine if the genuineness of the response could be measured by technology. When a parent tries to encourage the child’s efforts by saying (with a little dash of a lie) that the progress is visible, it works.

Technology can take away that indulgent act of lying to help someone or not be hurtful. When the boss requests feedback about his idea and the camera in the office tells him that your face showed clear signs of contempt and anger, what would it do to the relationship? These tiny untruths act as social grease in relationships. Absolute evidence-based information could change our relationships forever.

In regimes where alternative expression of sexuality is illegal, a despotic regime could identify and impact citizens simply based on face recognition. Despotic employers could use it to harass employees who challenge authority.

Let’s face it. We are so enamoured by this technology, that we don’t have time to think through the consequences. At least for now.


Written for Business Line dt 13 Sep 2017

Join me on LinkedIn and Twitter @AbhijitBhaduri for more posts

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