In the Hollywood-esque world of facial recognition software, the good-guy-gone-rogue tries to hide in plain sight in a crowded airport or a metropolitan area while bumbling law enforcement operatives try to seek him out. The end result, of course, is that our hero gets away despite the high-tech algorithms that are hunting him down.
Like most situations in which technology is rolled out in an action movie, the reality is obviously a lot different. But an Israeli software firm called Faception is working to make the reality a lot more like the movies.
Faception claims that its software can not only pick out a specific person from a crowd–like current recognition tactics–but can also predict which people will be the suspected individual. Right now, everything from child molesters to terrorists can be predictively sought using their software, meaning the company claims it can pick out the killers in a crowded city square before they actually detonate the bomb.
That’s a very scary prospect when there’s nothing more to go on than “you look like you might be a terrorist,” but that hasn’t stopped the US government from signing up with Faception, according to The Washington Post.
The issue at hand is the predictive nature of the software. At a high-stakes poker tournament, Faception correctly guessed two individuals out of fifty who would win, but it did so by comparing the faces of the fifty players against its database of known professional poker players. All it would take to skew the results would be for someone to insert different pictures into that database.
That concern becomes a whole lot more plausible when Faception is used by the Department of Homeland Security, who already has a contract with the company. A hacker simply swaps the photos in a database of known terrorists or convicted sex offenders, and the wrong people are arrested.
Experts across the country have weighed in on how wrong this concept is of picking out a criminal based on his looks, but for its part, Faception says that’s not how its software is intended to work. It’s supposedly only one tool in the law enforcement toolbox, and not intended to be the only measure of who’s a criminal or not. Just for laughs, it would be interesting to see how Faception fares against the photos of every member of the government. If DHS wants a true test of the software before unleashing it as a law enforcement tactic, perhaps they should try it out in their own neighborhood, given the sheer volume of federal employees who’ve been convicted of sex crimes.