The face of the future may not be just your face. It might be your smile or even your eyes. As we continually progress into a super-connected world of technology and online abilities beyond our ancestor’s dreams, everyday aspects of our lives are being reformed and rebuilt in new ways.
Artificially intelligent machines and financial apps are dominating the new world we live in. Of course, this is interesting and exciting on many levels, but there’s also a downside: namely, if we’re relying on technology to make our lives easier, then who will be behind the scenes? Likewise, if we’re trusting data files with our lives, then who is in charge of that data?
However, although these big questions remain unanswered, not getting excited about the possibilities is undoubtedly impossible. Today we use many new technologies we once considered gimmicks or toys. We carry our phones everywhere in our pockets, wear small digital smartwatches, and carry billions of cloud files on our computers in the form of music, pictures and video files.
We have become accustomed to this new world thanks to almost seamless integration into everyday life. However, even this “innovation” has not gone unnoticed by the authorities, who are beginning to scrutinize it. What they’re concerned about is that one day everything we know about ourselves might be gone. But before we get there, new technology such as facial recognition could be the future to banking, eradicating plastic bank cards altogether.
Biometrics and the future
The future of face recognition may be built upon a concept called ‘biometrics’ – the use of biological measurements such as blood pressure (and thus pulse), facial features, behavioural patterns and physical characteristics to personalize systems and protect user identity. We think the future will be built around biometric systems and devices because we trust them so much. We like the idea of staying informed and healthy, and we’re comfortable with the idea of giving up privacy and sharing values and information in order to achieve this.
There has been significant research into facial recognition, including years of work by science fiction pioneer Ridley Scott on his film Blade Runner, which focused on using cameras to read facial expressions for emotional reaction through Rachel’s android character. However, modern systems such as Google’s face detection app ‘Goggles’ rely on the use of facial features such as skin texture and skin tone, which fall through a complex series of algorithms to generate a three-dimensional model. They aren’t perfect, which is why it was officially discontinued, but the poise for the technology is there, or maybe here we should say.
A team of researchers from Lancaster University in the UK has developed a new biometric system that could replace credit cards, driver’s licenses and passports with pictures of our faces. They outlined a new biometric system likened to a “passport photo”. The system is capable of converting human faces into digital data.
How does this system work?
It all starts with taking an infrared photograph of your face using a special camera. This photograph measures how much light is absorbed by your skin at different frequencies; because not all skin absorbs light in precisely the same way when hit with infrared light, this photograph can be used to generate an image that identifies you.
When this photograph is sent to a database along with your name, it can be used as a passport ID. Instead of the usual passport photo, you’d have this infrared image as identification – and it’s harder to fake than a picture. The system could be used in several other ways:
- You could use this process to digitize an old photograph or paintings that show a person’s face for identification purposes.
- You could use it in the art world to distinguish between replicas and originals.
- You could embed the codes on your banknotes for security purposes.
In addition to these possible uses, this facial recognition system could have benefits in the entertainment industry to verify whether actors are playing their roles or change the process of special effects.
Of course, not everyone is excited about the idea of having their face used as a bank card. The significant concern with using faces is the use of something very private, such as our faces, being broadcast for anyone to read digitally. Although we may never see such studies integrated into day to day life, the idea of facial recognition technology in banking is not outside the realm of possibility. The system’s flexibility means that it can be adjusted to be beneficial to its users. Still, for now, it is being developed with uses in the e-commerce and entertainment industries in mind.
However, there are several concerns related to this technology. First, there is a lot of debate about whether or not people should have their anonymity compromised by something as easily read as their face. In addition, the system only works if you’re looking directly at it – if anything is obstructing your face from view, then the data may be unusable.
Although research into facial recognition technology has been going on for years, there are still many unanswered questions about how it will be used in the future. For example, it is not clear how some of the concepts used in facial recognition technology might be applied. For example, some specialists are trying to persuade businesses to use the technology to recognize potential customers on the street and try to win their custom by sending advertising tailored directly to their faces. This is useful for small businesses which are unlikely to pay more for an advertisement targeted only at a specific demographic – after all, how expensive can it be?
Of course, this also raises some troubling issues. If you are on the street without your phone or computer on hand, there’s no way of seeing whether you’ve been targeted in this manner. In addition, you don’t want to get targeted by a con artist who will send you a coupon you can never redeem. The use of technology in this way is unique to the computer age and raises concerns about how it might be used in the future to manipulate people’s behaviour.
While there are still many questions left unanswered, the one thing that is clear is that facial recognition technology will become increasingly important in our lives as researchers develop new techniques and applications for it. There will also be many ethical issues that will need to be considered by scientists, governments and the public at large. How can we protect our privacy while allowing for facial recognition technology to help keep us safe? The technology is not yet ready for use in the real world, but there are certainly some fascinating ways it could be used in the future.