The Cloud Never Forgets a Face


Your life exists in the cloud, no matter what you choose to do. Yes, there's an app for that — and you probably already saw the announcement that PittPatt, short for Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, was acquired by Google.

The app is a facial recognition program that began as a research project at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute in the 1990s. Jared Keller at The Atlantic calls the potential problems posed by this convergence of facial recognition technology and the vast Web of publicly available information terrifying.

The article concludes:

[…] your life exists in the cloud, indexed by Google, in the background of a photo album on Facebook, and across thousands of spammy directories that somehow know where you live and where you went to high school. These little bits of information exist like digital detritus. With software like PittPatt that can glean vast amounts of cloud-based data when prompted with a single photo, your digital life is becoming inseparable from your analog one.

Well, there are plenty of scary things already in market. So this software, if it works, better take a number. The article also sheds little light on whether it works or not. And now that it has acquired it, what would Google do?

That, by the way, is a reference to Jeff Jarvis' book, which is now out in paperback.

Jarvis has a new book out as well. This one deals more squarely with publicness. As a long time reader of his blog, I'm fairly familiar with the book's premise and contents. And maybe that's a topic that would be of interest to you.

Jarvis writes in defense of publicness, how being public improves everything, from interpersonal relationships, to empowered communities, from strengthening social ties, to enabling greater collaboration, promoting transparency and truth-seeking, and helping enliven deliberative democracy, among many other things.

What do we do with facial recognition, then?

The federal government invested in many technologies (and also stories) in an attempt to make the nation safer after 9/11. In an interview with Marketplace on public radio, Mellon Professor Alessandro Acquisti, who worked on the facial recognition project, said:

The combination of these technologies is bringing us closer to a world where online and offline data merge.

This kind of potential identification is pretty creepy, I admit. It's recognition without the benefit of being recognized in the better sense of the term. It's having a visual match, without actually seeing.

Then again, massive oversight and scrutiny have changed the very fabric of the American culture and attitude to the point that fewer people actually think about that erosion.

Businesses are getting caught in this "us" vs. "them" dichotomy. Instead of applying their energy to understanding how we think about what we do, what their tools to trade are.

Their real aim should be to build a business based on promises to trade on.

The cloud may never forget a face, neither does someone whose promise was met.


0 responses to “The Cloud Never Forgets a Face”

  1. The opposite is seldom the alternative.
    The lie is in thinking that this is a contest between public and private. As you say us versus them.
    For my part, it’s easy be optimistic and visionary with the life of another who must live between the light and the dark. Great ideas/movements spend their earliest years in the shadows. Indeed, we evolve somewhere between the private and the public.
    Is this something we want to risk because we can?

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