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The Facial Recognition Revolution

Ahmedabad: Shades of Glory

This essay first appeared on CNN.

Less than a decade ago, while conducting research into how people use mobile technology around the globe, there would come a point where I’d take out my camera and start documenting. The act of taking a photo was very much a one-way street – me documenting the interviewee.
Then, about four years ago, the relationship started to shift. Pretty much anywhere in the world when I took out my camera, people would then delve into pockets and bags (and occasionally sleeves) and pull out a camera phone and start to document me documenting them. Today, they still take the photo, but what is taken is far more likely to be shared online.
The next step in this evolution – or should I say revolution – will soon be upon us with the mainstreaming of facial recognition technology, which through smartphones will literally be in the palm of your hand. The ability to identify someone at a moment’s notice by snapping a photo of him or her, to trigger an immediate influx of data about the person behind the face, will forever change the world.
Who wouldn’t want to know more about the people in the world around them?
Imagine being able to pull up a résumé, Facebook profile, tax records and vital statistics just by taking a photograph. Consider how this will change social interaction and dynamics in public spaces – on the streets, at a conference, on campus, at an anti-government protest, in the personal care aisle of your local supermarket and in nightclubs.
Each space has its own dynamic and its own set of motivations. Your face will become the starting point for a search query about you. And your eyes, once the windows through which you saw the world, will become the entry point to the parts of your life that are intentionally or otherwise out there.