In TV shows, detectives search a database of faces at lightning speed to make a match to a photo or video footage — something that a new high performance camera and software system has made reality. It can capture a face and then search up to 36 million faces in one second to find a match in selected databases.
Hitachi Kokusai Electric is the company behind the super surveillance system. Their software can take just about any image — whether from a smart phone, videotape or camera and use it in a search. The software searches algorithmically for a match — able to recognize faces with up to 30 degrees of deviation and at various angles. The face only needs to be at least 40 pixels by 40 pixels for a search.
A person of interest is then searched against a database of images already collected. An airport for example could create a database of faces based on footage of people passing through a terminal over any given period of time. Or a shopping center could do the same.
A person who is of interest to surveillance professionals at those locations could then take an image of the individual and search the database to determine patterns of behavior or a more complete picture of what they may look like.
The technology is impressive and in the context of fighting or solving crimes it seems like a valuable tool. Other potential positives are looking for lost people — those who might have dementia, children separated from parents or perhaps quickly identifying survivors of disasters.
On the other hand, it gives added oomph to the monitoring activities already in place around the world. With this software able to accurately process facial data in seconds, we'll have to accept that a portion of our lives will always be on display.
Many in large urban cities like London are already used to that, with cameras on virtually every corner.
But imagine a scenario where facial recognition data is combined with the increasing use of drones and satellites. Huge databases could be built for all kind of monitoring.
Would activities such as the Arab Spring have occurred if people were afraid of being identified and prosecuted? Would people in our own country be as willing to participate in peaceful protests?
So, while the technology earns points for innovation, in terms of implementation it might be a wait-and-see how it is used proposition.