When you take your seat at the cinema for a sci-fi film, you’re hoping to take a leisurely glimpse into the future or, at least, to hear a somewhat credible script. As it happens, just a few days ago Back to the Future celebrated its 30th birthday, and the press inundated us with stories on the correct and not-so-correct technological predictions the film made for our era. While they did get many things right, some other examples were way off the mark. While it may be slightly irrelevant whether or not teenagers’ jackets are “self-drying” or if six-year-old girls’ skateboards can fly, one thing's for sure – we are very interested in what the future holds.
“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”
One of the thousands of examples demonstrating just how much we worry about the future is the online campaign launched by Microsoft, where people uploaded a photo and the app guessed their age using facial recognition.
The app got my age wrong by a few years.
Luckily, these days, technology brings us closer to solutions that seem futuristic but which, nowadays, are already implemented in more locations than you might think. Far from being an emerging technology, facial recognition is currently a mature sector with fairly profitable development in the industries in which it is used. While the Herta Security website already offers many real-life examples of facial recognition, I have put together the following six questions that will help us better understand what it’s all about:
What does facial recognition involve?
Well, basically, it involves capturing a person's image and processing it using algorithms to find the best match within a database of existing people. It’s more or less like a person comparing a selection of photos by placing them on top of one another (like a carbon copy) until they find one that matches the original enough to say it is the same person.
OK, so do the images need to be still?
Logically, the technology first emerged as a simple verification of still images. At the time, image processing used a lot of computer capacity, it was slow and verification usually took minutes or even hours.
Luckily, nowadays, we have moved on from still images. Technology has matured to the point where it now enables us to process an image of a person moving in real time. In this way, we can identify someone in a crowded environment such as a protest, a football stadium or simply in a queue for the sales.
Does the technology bring something to the table or is it just another win for Big Brother?
Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that it’s a “demon technology that only serves to keep us under control and under round-the-clock surveillance.” This couldn't be further from the truth. Fortunately, this isn't the aim of technology. In the case of public security, it’s used to locate people with a criminal record and who, today, could attempt all kinds of violent attacks. Today’s climate makes us think perhaps we should increase the current controls in places we go with our families.
Is it just a security guard?
Luckily, this technology enables us to carry out simple, interesting tasks such as opening the door to your house. The video-doorman, available to everyone in this day and age, can open the door to your house with no need for keys or any other physical items. Imagine getting to work and being able to access the office without a card. Have you ever left your card at home and had to get a temporary one from reception? And what happens when you lose it?
Surely only NASA can afford it?
Technologies that have already reached maturity don't tend to surprise us. In this case, the technology is already fairly affordable, maybe even cheap, given the savings and security improvements its implementation offers. Ultimately, we are going to use the existing infrastructure, either at home or at work, to access and identify people. Hence, costs are limited to the program recognising people, and it’s cheaper than using any physical card-based system.
Will physical means of access disappear?
It’s hard to say. Logically, the commodity of not having to carry a key, card or password is a possibility we would all like to have nowadays. But, naturally, we want something that is as secure as having a physical means of access to our homes. The future of access undoubtedly sways more towards facial recognition than other forms of recognition, such as fingerprint.