Saving Face

To avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to maintain dignity or preserve reputation; that's what "saving face" means, a meaning that has remained stable across time. With the advent of facial recognition it could very well be that our faces will become the reason for much humiliation and embarrassment...

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A few years ago, when I had to renew my passport, I was confronted for the first time with this modern, privacy invading technology. Nowadays we can't simply hop into a photo-boot to snap some random selfies for our passports, ID cards or driver licenses; only a photo taken by a licensed and professional photo studio will do. When I sat down for the picture, I was surprised to hear that I wasn't allowed to smile at all. When I asked for the reason for this new rule, the answer was simple; facial recognition. Computer AI uses millions of pictures found on the internet as well as photos provided by government agencies to learn how to recognize individual faces and to match them with the corresponding persons.

When we combine this relatively new technology with the knowledge that camera's are almost everywhere, and that their number is steadily increasing, plus the fact that the software is anything but perfect, we get a glimpse of a scary future in which Big Brother is literally watching everyone all of the time. Really, this should make you feel uncomfortable at the very least. And you should understand that "you don't have to worry as long as you're a law-abiding citizen", is not an argument to lessen that uncomfortable feeling. Not at all. Swapping privacy for a perceived increase in security is equally fallacious; as if security can't be increased without invading the privacy of every inhabitant of the planet...

I work in a call-center, helping customers solve problems with their internet, WiFi and television troubles. A week ago new internal software was introduced; now every conversation is being recorded and saved in a call-database, and of course this is brought as an aide to increase the quality of the service, and to help agents improve their conversation techniques in order to maximize sales as well as service. Most of my colleagues are young people, in their twenties mostly, and I'm really disturbed by the complete lack of resistance against this development; Big Brother isn't just watching, he's listening as well. I worry about this Brave New World, and I worry about the generations that have never known a world without Facebook; they're used to sharing a good chunk of their personal lives with the world. My own son had to accept that my wife and I could at any time log in to the online school portal to check how he's doing and if he didn't skip class. We're creating new generations of people who know no better than that there's always someone looking over their shoulder.

What will this do to us? What will be the psychological and social effects of this relatively sussed and total loss of privacy? We don't know and we'll only afterwards recognize the effects of this black swan event. We do know that the panopticon prison fundamentally changes the behavior of inmates; the mere possibility that they're being watched changes their behavior. What will the certain knowledge that we're constantly being watched do to us? I don't know, but I'm almost sure the effects will be to our collective detriment, and I'm almost sure that this wouldn't have been such a big problem if we lived in a more egalitarian society where a small group doesn't have all the power; right now we can be sure that those in power will use this loss of privacy to further increase their power over us. So please, watch this video and think about this; it'll become relevant before you know it...

Why Facial Recognition Technology Is So Dangerous

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