Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Facial recognition surveillance

August 12, 2015News

Policemen in San Diego, according to the New York Times, are stopping people, pulling out their iPads, and taking pictures of them, and then sending the images to a cloud-based service that matches their faces to those in a criminal database.

This surveillance appears to be discriminatory. The police stop far more young black and hispanic males. Some 3 of 4 don't match up to criminals. But those who do are in for a long and trying day, or far more.

But I think it's important to understand where this surveillance technology is heading. If a couple of policemen can snap a pictures and send them one by one to a cloud service today, within short years surveillance cameras will be automatically doing that work, at industrial scale. They'll be able to scan crowds at demonstrations, parades, baseball games, wherever, and within seconds generate lists of the participants, their address, occupation, estimated household income, and criminal record.

This is the near future. We can complain about it, but the response will always be that a system with "knowledge" is more efficient, more productive, and above all, safer. That argument, I think, will always prevail. This is the logic, featuring the exponential advance of information technology, that leads to the Boost.


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