It’s a classic scene: a suave character walks down the hallway and reaches a door with several ominous buttons and screens. They place their hand on one, step forward to a red light scanning their face up and down, and a monotone robotic voice grants them entrance. Originally a crazy phenomenon in science fiction movies, this is now something you might encounter in everyday life—facial recognition technology.
With the arrival of the iPhone X face unlock and the Google Arts and Culture selfie feature (where Google can compare your selfies to faces in famous artworks), facial recognition is now entering the mainstream. However, facial recognition has actually been around for ages, even before it began appearing on our television. Many people, including teens, don’t have any knowledge on it. “I don’t really care about it to be honest. All I know is that it’s strong enough to the point where it can recognize your face in full on makeup,” said Ashley, a freshman at Boston Arts Academy.
Woodrow Wilson Bledsoe, a mathematician and scientist of the 20th century is considered the “father of facial recognition.” He began his work with a system to distinguish individual faces in the 60s. His program was able to recognize patterns in faces (such as the hairline), distances between features, and specific shapes. When given another photo, the program would take data from that image and compare it to the other photos in the database, and select the most similar. While far from perfect and severely limited, it was a huge first step.
In the same decade, the television show “Star Trek” introduced not just facial recognition technology, but retina scans, voice identification, and vital scanners. The show has predicted many other technologies that would become available to us in the future, like artificial intelligence programs (Siri, Alexa), tablets, and more.
The technology continued to develop over the decades. One notable progression was made in 1993, when the FERET (Facial Recognition Technology) program was introduced and put out. And by 2009, the technology was being introduced to law enforcement systems, thus resulting in 4,000 more arrests in 2010 than in years before, according to NY Daily News.
Social media in the 2010s is what really moved facial recognition from our TV screens into our everyday lives. Facebook introduced a feature that selected faces out of you and your friends’ photos and associated them with specific accounts. Google and Apple both have programs that recognize locations and individuals in your personal photo books. And now, this feature is everywhere, unlocking our phones and improving with every update. Our computers are becoming more powerful, and our faces might someday become “more powerful than fingerprints,” according to Will Ades, a data scientist at a local information technology company. Facial recognition technology relies on big data, or large amounts of information. Every pixel of your face is a “data point”—so facial recognition technology works by “just recognizing patterns,” according to Ades. With so many details in our face now being picked up, it might even be more secure than your fingerprint someday.
While it is convenient, there are those who find it a little scary. “Personally, I think it's a little interesting because so many people are uncomfortable with that their faces are going to be recognized by their phone,” said Helen Nguyen, a freshman at Boston Arts Academy. In a world where people cover their webcams and rely heavily on the Internet to keep all their personal information secure, people are just now comprehending that companies have been keeping even more of our information than we previously understood. And, this technology will continue to progress whether we want it to or not, it will slowly take over all aspects of our lives and we won’t be able to resist. Ades says facial recognition will grow in popularity “without a doubt.” And as another Boston Arts Academy freshman, Quinn, puts it, “There are reasons to be scared of it because it’s literally recognizing someone’s face, but at the same time, it can be used for good. But in our society, there’s not a big chance everybody will use it for good.” We must grow with these innovations and educate ourselves on safe ways to live our lives on the screen.
Here are a few tips for how you can protect yourself online.
- Have different passwords for everything and keep them written down in a safe place.
- Do not allow your browser to autofill your information.
- Avoid ads promising rewards and prizes: they’re probably scams.
- Keep all your anti-virus software up-to-date.