Ross: It’s probably too late to stop universal face recognition

Sep 11, 2023, 8:06 AM | Updated: 9:30 am

LONDON - OCTOBER 14:  A man uses an iris recognition scanner during the Biometrics 2004 exhibition ...

LONDON - OCTOBER 14: A man uses an iris recognition scanner during the Biometrics 2004 exhibition and conference October 14, 2004 in London. The conference will examine the role of new technology such as facial recognition and retinal scans to determine identity to improve security. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

(Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

About six years ago, according to The New York Times, technology companies, in a remarkable spasm of self-restraint, voluntarily decided not to unleash the ultimate anti-privacy weapon.

On that day in 2017, a Facebook engineer took out a smartphone and aimed it at the people sitting around a conference table. As he panned across the faces, in a synthesized voice, the phone announced instantly and accurately everybody’s name.

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I’d love a phone like that. I tend to forget names, and I also tend to run into people I’ve never met who somehow know my name, so it’s only right I should be able to return the favor.

However, Facebook, having already paid a penalty in a privacy case, put the name-dropper software on ice. Not only that, but Facebook, along with Google and Apple, started buying up smaller face recognition companies to shut down their name-dropping operations. A tech version of catch-and-kill.

They decided to limit the technology to mundane tasks like password replacement and creating personal photo montages instead of releasing it into the wild.

But there was really no way to stop the quest for universal face recognition once it was invented because the only way to suppress a dangerous technology is never to invent it to begin with. And that’s against human nature.

And now it’s 2023, and the technology is very much in the wild. If you’re the type who shares everything on Facebook and Instagram, it’s too late, your face is fair game. Even if you simply know someone on social media and they took your picture, it’s also too late.

So it’s probably too late for all of us. We are all going to be on a first-name basis.

You’ll soon be able to buy display glasses that will slap a name on everyone you encounter. And those of you who choose to resist will eventually buy them, too, once complete strangers start greeting you by name and asking about your kids and recent Amazon purchases.

Nightmarish, I know. But on the plus side, you’ll never again have trouble striking up a conversation, and you’ll never again have to wear a sticker that says “HELLO – I’m DAVE” because we’ll already know.

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Ross: It’s probably too late to stop universal face recognition