Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Arrival of Face Recognition Apps… and more transparency news

Face-recognition has reached your smart phone, bringing science fiction closer and also (I expect) a storm of controversy.
NameTag-facial-recognition-appNametag, an upcoming app for Android, iOS, and Google Glass, will allow you to photograph strangers and find out who they are -- complete with social networking and online dating profiles. Snap and send a pic to NameTag's server, where it will compare the photo to millions of online records and return with a name, more photos, and social-media profiles, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where the person (or their friends) might have publicly posted photos of themselves. In the U.S., Nametag will also match the photo against more than 450,000 entries in the National Sex Offender Registry and other criminal databases.
There is already some discussion of the blatant privacy concerns… and one can see why Google has banned this capability (officially) from its very cautious "Glass" endeavor in wearable augmented reality, preferring to let these frontiers be probed by smaller, expendable companies.

Of course this is part of a general trend.  2014 will be the year that people with smart phones realize, they can snap a picture of almost any building or bridge  or product and almost instantly access online information about the photographed item… no bar or QR codes needed.  Faces are just another category of "item." (Here is just one essay exploring a new world.)
Still, expect a huge row over this trend, along with campaigns to outlaw face-recog on the streets.  As forecast in The Transparent Society (1997) it will be a nexus of confrontation between two very different approaches to preserving privacy and freedom, and you can be sure the "let's all hide!" reflex will start to win, at first…
…until it becomes clear.  That the "let's all hide!" approach simply won't work.  And if it did, we would only empower our new masters.
== Repelling Big Brother ==
Defeat-Big-brotherIn "How to Defeat Big Brother," on Salon Magazine, Andrew Leonard posits that "In 2013, we learned the terrifying scope of modern surveillance. Now it's time to fight back."
In fact, Leonard appears to be among the few who actually get what it's all about.
"The Panopticon doesn’t work if we watch the watchers back. Knowing exactly how we are being surveilled is the set-up for a prison break," he writes in a worthy rumination… though alas without proper attribution for who's been spreading that lonely meme for almost 20 years.
Another fellow who gets it… here's a link to Professor Arnold Kling's review of The Transparent Society, revealing genuine depth and perceptiveness.
== The Real Trends toward Transparency ==
Transparency-2013 Open Data and Transparency: A Look back at 2013: Was this the year that "transparency" came into its own? In this year-end review, we learn of progress in some nations, while others cling tenaciously to old, corruption-prone ways.
I described this to the cypherpunks way back in 1996… that encryption could be broken by spies and cops in a plethora of old and new-fashioned ways… such as the different sounds that each of the keys on your keyboard make. By all means, learn and improve your security.  But anyone who calls encryption a panacea is a religious fanatic.
Oh, but it gets much worse.  "Thanks to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, we already knew the NSA played a central role in promoting a flawed formula for generating random numbers, which if used in encryption, essentially gives the spies easy access to computing systems. A piece of RSA software, bSafe, became the most significant vector for the security flaw. The encryption tools which hundreds of millions of people rely on to protect the private information are significantly weaker as a result."  Now it seems that the NSA bribed the security firm RSA (who deny this, vehemently) to leave the back door to computers all over the world open.
And wow. Reports suggest that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations.  There is only one way to control this.
== On the other hand… ==
ERASABLE-INTERNET SnapChat and the Future of an Erasable Internet: My transparency-related panel interview on NPR's show "To The Point" (KCRW) on January 3, 2014, started with a discussion of SnapChat - the latest craze among the kids - and whether we are moving to an era when the Internet's voracious memory can be put on a diet.  Other panelists? Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo recently wrote about the prospect of a more erasable Internet.
Jennifer Golbeck, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Center at Univ. of Maryland spoke about social networks: Analyzing the Social Web.
big_data_a_revolution_that_will_transform_how_we_live_work_and_think_by_viktor_mayer-schonberger_kenneth_cukier_book_front_cover_dustjacketVictor Mayer-Shoenberger who has written about the dangers of Big Data, warned of both up & downsides. (See his book: Big Data: A Revolution that will transform how we live,work and think.)
Ah but…  a new application, SnapHack Pro, for sale on the iOS App Store, allows users to log in using their SnapChat credentials and send and receive Snaps. The difference: all images opened and viewed in SnapHack are permanent. Ah well.  And you ever, every believed otherwise?
Dig-it. I wholly approve of this SnapChat innovation as a tool to send self-erasing blips and snaps. As a convenience for conveying brief-then-gone glimpses of hair-mussed, face-grimaced little fun-stupid things to pals? When being 98% sure it's truly gone is assurance-enough? Terrific! … long as you never base your safety or future upon it.  
== And then it gets weird.  ==
Talking Train Windows: Trains deliver ads directly into your head: The German branch of ad company BBDO has tested a form of bone conduction technology on a train between Munich and North Rhine-Westphalia. When a commuters rest their heads against a window, hoping to catch a few winks before getting to their destination, ads which were previously inaudible suddenly begin playing inside their heads… via bone-sonic induction through the glass.
== Innovations! ==
innovations-2013The Washington Post offers a run-down on ten trends and concepts of 2013 that seemed to have the most staying power for the year ahead. Most of which you saw discussed here.
The Occulus Rift finally brings VR gaming in 3D into our age.  And there are other approaches ripening, such as Technical Illusions.  Notice that both go for the full immersion AR approach, which Google Glass deliberately avoids. And for good reason.  A major corporation does not want to face juries when folks (during the transition decade) step off curbs in front of cars.  Which will happen until some of the adaptations and adjustments that I talk about in both Earth and Existence.
See this taken to the extreme in "NatuLife", which you can find in my collection, Otherness.
The $100 laptop is so 2010, The $38 tablet is today.  Yes a $38 tablet.
And for your smart phone, TellSpec a $250 handheld laser spectrometer will analyze food, scanning for allergens, calories, contaminants in your meal.
Bill-nye-creation-debate A terrific writeup on Bill Nye… formerly "the science guy" and now my colleague and president of The Planetary Society.  And on February 4, the amiable debater against anti-scienceism at the Ohio Creation Museum!
Go get-em Bill.  Stand up for science, enlightenment and triple digit IQs.
And finally….. is government all-bad?  Play DARPA's web games at Verigames to crowdsource and help find software vulnerabilities. The site’s five games are designed so that when users solve puzzles to advance to the next level of play, they are actually generating mathematical proofs that can identify software flaws that cyberattacks could exploit.  Alas, good-guy agencies like DARPA may suffer for the excesses of certain others that have inveigled their way into game worlds like World of Warcraft for reasons of espionage.


sociotard said...

I hope the "instant delete" thing doesn't catch on too well. Even without it, our descendants will curse us for the "digital dark age" we are leaving them.

There's a book I really want to get called "A Means to Freedom", made of letters between H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. They start off with the usual "I like your stories" and "I like yours too", and eventually it turns into a debate on the virtues of civilization vs. barbarism. Neat stuff!

We only have this book because people kept their letters! This is true of much of history. Letters and such make great primary sources. Now we have email, which is nowhere near as accessible for historians. Am I ever going to see a fascinating book of debate correspondence between David Brin and Charles Stross (or whoever)? Or will it all just disappear?

Add in formats intentionally designed to vanish, and it is just sad.

locumranch said...

All this talk of transparency-related sousveillance as the antidote for Big Brother misses the mark because we don't have to fear Big Brother as much as we need to fear our little ones.

As anonymity vanishes due to facial recognition, any random passerby with predatory intention could identify you, access your personal information, locate your cell number, place of residency & personal preferences, calculate your financial worth, track you using telephonic GPS and estimate your ability to defend yourself if they so wished. They would 'see' you when you were sleeping and they would 'know' when you're awake, out & about.

Our means of freedom would vanish overnight: We would be at the mercy of our questionable little brothers, whether they be parsons, rapists, con artists or reputable salesman, and we would be defenseless against them unless we went about armed & loaded for bear like so many characters from A. E. van Vogt's 'Weapon Makers'.


Tony Fisk said...

Well, since we could detect such psychotic santas with equal facility, we would hardly be defenceless.

Perhaps a little more scary would be to find your name inserted in that sexual offender database. Then again, it should be straightforward finding out who added it and when. Then, as Christie and his staff are just discovering, see who catches hell.

David Brin said...

LOCUM raides an excellent point… that I raise in almost identical words in The Transparent Society. He might try reading it some time.

Tony gets the response. Reciprocality of vision… it will work IF it is accompanied by a general social consensus to leave each other alone. The combination would let you CATCH busy body, judgemental voyeurs and shame them.

I wonder if any of you ever heard the song HARPER VALLEY PTA… certainly not Locum, but I suggest he look it up.

Joel said...

In Canada we've had this sort of problem already for victims of anonymous cyber-bullying. A girl committed suicide after she posed for risque photos for someone who then passed them around at her school. Every time she left to go to a new school, this bully would befriend people at that school (claiming he was moving in and wanted contacts) and then post the pictures.

Internet anonymity is dead, as is privacy. And I'm pretty ok with that - but just like I can google my own name or check my credit card score, I want to be able to see what the NSA and other gov't agencies are keeping on file about me (to ensure accuracy and also to keep abreast of what they're tracking).

If kids were more aware of how trackable they are, perhaps these girls would cut out the naked selfies.

Tony Fisk said...

Heh! I think 'Harper Valley PTA' was on continuous play in the background of my childhood, but I never consciously picked up on the lyrics!

I would say Mrs. Johnson's biggest sin was to step out into the light.

John's Secret Identity™ said...

I'm thinking TellSpec should hit up the health insurance industry for development funding. I figure one of these units preventing a single severe-allergy incident would pay for itself many times over in what they save on paying for a hospital trip. I see it becoming standard issue alongside epi-injectors for the severely allergic, but paid-for in full by insurers with foresight.

locumranch said...

Whereas Tony imagines a persistence of Centralised Authority after the disempowerment of 'Big Brother' (erroneously as they are one & the same), David is simply being disingenuous by claiming that "Reciprocality of vision (aka 'surveillance countered by sousveilence') will work IF it is accompanied by a general (aka 'centrally coordinated') social consensus to leave each other alone (aka 'respect one another's privacy')" as IF "reciprocity of vision" and 'respecting one another's privacy' are one & the same.

These errors are compounded by probability fallacy due to the transposition of minority for majority. Tony assumes that only a few aberrant minority 'psychotic santas' will turn 'sousveillence' to personal advantage when 'sousveillence' (if it is to work at all) must be a majority property; David assumes that the new 'busy body' majority will somehow be subject to 'shaming' as if they represented some easily repressible minority; and both forget that 'majority behavior' must be considered 'normal' and (therefore) 'moral'.

In 1999, 68% of Italians cheated on their taxes and they were in no way ashamed. They were (in fact) damn proud of it, bragging about it like they were Berlusconi, electing Mr. Bunga-Bunga as their moral representative, proving once & for all that you cannot 'shame' majority behaviours, just as the Harper Valley PTA could not 'shame' the miniskirt beclad 1970 majority in the song & Barbara Eden film of the same name.

For shame.


Lorraine said...

Go get-em Dave. Stand up for science, enlightenment and quadruple digit IQs.

David Brin said...

What locus fails to grasp is that his own list of potential ways that reciprocal respect might fail is precisely a list of concerns that might, if addressed, help the process to work.

Certainly top-down coercion of MYOB "Mind Your Own Business: is less desirable than a strong tacit and widely held belief in tolerance and eccentricity and MYOB. So? That is generally what we see today.

It's in his snarky assumption that his failure modes are COMPULSORY that he breaks down and shatters. Italy is one thing. Denmark is another.

Alex Tolley said...

The Philosopher's Magazine (tpm) issue 22 has a nice set of articles in the Forum about the morality of surveillance. The article on "Untargeted Surveillance" is interesting as it separates the act of surveillance from the uses of it. The use of surveillance by the East German Stasi - very negative consequences - was the problem that resulted in a stifling of culture. When I was a lad, British schoolteachers could still cuff you around the head to control behavior in class. The Stasi was like that in spades.

Harper Valley PTA. It is a fun song, but it only works because Mrs Johnson was prepared to make a public stand. Had she been like most people, she wouldn't have been able to do that. Had she been one of the 25% introverts, she probably would have been forced out of town. And while various targets may have been hypocrites, that wouldn't have stopped the majority from bullying her to make her conform to local social norms. If she had traits that couldn't be changed - race, religion, etc, no amount of fighting back would have ensured that the community accepted her. Human interactions are way more complex than simple power relationships based on knowledge.

$38 UbiSlate 7Ci. THINK ABOUT IT. A computer with keyboard and screen in the same price range as a Raspberry Pi or Arduino board. It only gets cheaper from here too. Think of the potential market for peripherals that can be semi-permanently connected for this price. This has the potential to drive a huge ecosystem of software and devices that benefit from a screen and some basic connectivity when needed. I see this as a potential disruptive technology.

Paul451 said...

[How exactly would a penis enlarging pill work? I mean, if it worked, wouldn't it increase your risk of cancer?]

Re: NSA.

It would be nice if they could give me a copy of my phone records. Hell, my bank's online account listing only goes back 9 months, and doesn't let you sort by the name of the payee/payer. I'd love to be able to bring up my bank records, click on my last rent payment, say, and get a neat filtered list of every single payments to my landlord's account.

At least Google gives you something back for their universal surveillance.

Re: Nametag universal face recognition.

Once, alcoholic drinks were consumed at any time. Alc.Vol was low (typically lower than modern beer), and it was safer than water because alcohol killed parasites & bacteria. But getting roaring drunk took an effort. When cheap distillation was invented, it was much easier to get vomitingly drunk. So a culture of not drinking before an arbitrary time (say, just before lunch) was created.

But weirdly, our society seems to resist developing similar voluntary social habits in response to universal surveillance. Instead it's left to the weirdos and activists to try to subvert the system, and thus stand out even more.

"Trains deliver ads directly into your head: [...] When a commuters rest their heads against a window, [...] via bone-sonic induction through the glass."

That deserves a punch in the groin for the inventors. They didn't just play loud obnoxious ads to a trapped audience, they specifically saw people trying to rest, to sleep, and thought, "Wow, I could totally ruin that, and get paid for it!"

To have that much contempt for your fellow humans without earning equal contempt from humanity in return, seems unfair.

Alex Tolley said...

[How exactly would a penis enlarging pill work? I mean, if it worked, wouldn't it increase your risk of cancer?]

Targeted cell lengthening might work. (YMMV with side effects) :)

A pill that would give your unborn male offspring a larger penis by altering the epigenetic control of development might work too. (Side effects on female offspring?)

John's Secret Identity™ said...

"A pill that would give your unborn male offspring a larger penis by altering the epigenetic control of development might work too. (Side effects on female offspring?)"

I would hope there would be a corresponding effect on (other people's) female offspring, otherwise if it works too well your sons might have trouble producing offspring of their own.

Tony Fisk said...

The enlargement may refer to the arousal the seller feels when thinking of sales of these pills.

'much ngcymm' - is this the active ingredient?

LarryHart said...

Is it inappropriate to talk about Chris Christie here? Because sooner or later, you know I'm going to have to. Right?

Tony Fisk said...

@LarryHart: I already have mentioned him. Go for it, if you feel you must.

Paul451 said...

"Inappropriate" in this blog. Or "Inappropriate" immediately after a string of "penis enlargement" gags?

Paul451 said...

...Unless you plan to use that as a segue?

"Oh, speaking of giant dicks..."

Paul451 said...

Speaking of giant dicks. The company responsible for the failure (CGI Federal) looks like being axed from the contract. I mentioned in a previous thread that when the botched a state system, their "punishment" was to have their contract doubled to fix it. Looks like incompetence was finally recognised and dealt with accordingly.

Rumours say that the government is instead looking at Accenture as a replacement. A company internationally notorious for botching large government systems.


LarryHart said...


Of course, I meant "inappropriate underneath a non-political posting".

Or maybe more to the point, will Dr Brin be posting about the subject himself soon?

LarryHart said...

The short version for now...

Whether or not Christie personally ordered the lane shutdown, it's disturbing that his administration is such that subordinates expect that the way to get in good with the boss is to use political office engage in petty vindictiveness.

The Ft Lee Mayor was being punished for not being one of the many Democrats to cross the aisle and endorse Christie for governor, right? The cross-aisle endorsements supposedly show how inclusive Christie would be as a presidential candidate, right? I wonder how many of those endorsements were made fearfully--in expectation of retaliation if they didn't go along.

LarryHart said...

Oh, and for the writers in the audience...

The cheif of staff or whoever who ordered the lane shutdowns is named BRIDGE-t Kelly? You can't make this stuff up.

matthew said...

I suspect that the facial recognition tagging apps will prove to be too popular and generally useful to be widely banned. There will be some attempts at garden-walling, but I think that they will mostly be swept away by the first widely-used, integrated app that comes along. I suspect that this is also when we see the first suscessful "reputation" scoring system as well. Call it the cocktail party app.

David Brin said...

There will be cases where stalkers are empowered by these face-recog systems and very bad things will happen that cause outcries. Our civilization might teeter over whether FIRST folks start discovering - hey, this is a great way to catch and deter stalkers. And I want my daughter to have this app at college.

Paul451 said...

Re: Christie's bridge problem.

I wonder how that Ft Lee Mayor and other Dems in the affected region are polling at the moment?

Alex Tolley said...

We had a taste of this without face recognition with the iPhone app - "Girls near me" or something like that. People who checked in with the website had their location and social media information fed to others. It was considered rather creepy. The creepiness may be due to the information asymmetry, rather than the information per se.

However, how can I stress this. I really, really dislike having a hole poked in my anonymity by checkout staff addressing me by name to be "friendly". This would be even more irritating if I was engaged by sales staff about would I like to buy that item I was looking at last time. Nor do I want random strangers approaching me even if I have reciprocal information about them. If we are going down this "inevitable" path, then we need social protocols to telegraph availability.

locumranch said...

I note that there has been no attempt to reconcile the libertarian ideal of 'MYOB' with informational transparency, leaving one to assume that it can't be done.

And, rather than arguing that 'failure modes are compulsory', I merely argue (as any scientist familiar with pure research should) that failure is probable because success is the exception rather than the rule.

If only it were otherwise. Then, I too could argue that the morally exceptional Denmarks are less rare and therefore more prevalent than a plethora of Italies. Then, I could dedicate myself to the PC 'zero tolerance' on intolerance policy with brown-shirted impunity. Then, I too could quip that 'what empowers also deters' until all words lose their meaning.

My children will also want to use that facial recognition app as much as possible ... assuming, of course, that so much selfish empowerment does not deter them from pursuing college.


locumranch said...

My mistake! I now realise that the facial recognition app will be a boon for both public safety & the PC agenda.

All we need to do is tweak the app with a color-coded 'sociability' rating scale. For instance, the screen would blink 'green' if the scanned individual is safe for David's daughter to associate with, 'yellow' if that person represents a moral hazard or even 'red' if that person represents a real & present danger.

Then, being empowered & forewarned, David's daughter can cross the street to avoid associating with suspect persons of color. We could even label safe areas & certain drinking fountains 'Green Only', making the occasional exception for 'high yellows'.

Sounds familiar, don't it?


LarryHart said...

The biggest problem I have with the proliferation of information available about myself is the fact that it is still possible for someone else to impersonate me ("steal my identity") by claiming to know some of that information.

The idea that anyone who knows my social security number and birthdate can be presumed to be me is insane if anyone's google-glasses can display that information at a glance. The solution isn't for me to protect those data points (which is not possible) but to lose the presumption. Of course, that begs the question of how one does establish one's bona-fides in this brave new world. I've got no answers there.

But even before Tru-Vu (tm) and such, the presumption was always precarious. I know my brother's SSN and birthdate, and we even resemble each other facially. I'd never use that information nefariously, but others in the same situation might do so. I know the birthdates of all my daughter's friends whose birthday parties she attends every year. The idea that one can keep that sort of information close enough to the vest to work as a password is absurd.

I remember the line from Star Trek TNG where a time-traveling Picard laments that he didn't get to know Mark Twain better, and Twain replies "Read my books. It's pretty much alll there." Good writers try to communicate who they are to their readers. 'Twould be a terrible shame if they have to start engaging in a degree of self-censorship because of what someone might deduce from a passage in a book that could be used to steal their identity.

Paul451 said...

I got a chuckle from LR's "coloreds" riff. But MLK actually wanted his "four little children" to be judged by the "content of their character"(**) rather than their skin melanin levels. So being branded by your social reputation is not "similar" to racism, but is MLK's own approved alternative.

But it does make for an interesting bit of SF what-if. "No Irish or social-Reds" (One David has partly covered with his "probies" in the Uplift series, and the subsequent breeding-rights cards.)

(** And if you're wondering, selfish greedy jerks from what I've seen.)


This is the name of a popular business accounting package. So colour this little bookkeeper occasionally confused by this thread.

Jumper said...

Is Cory Doctorow an idiot?

Jumper said...

I suppose fake beards for women traveling alone might appear.

locumranch said...

Being branded by your social reputation (SQ) is not just 'similar to racism', it is racism.

We measure 'Social reputation' in multifactorial fashion through a combination of social indicators which include employment, occupation, income, level of education, credit score, cultural background, physical health & presentability, all of which are racially derived.

All social indicators break down along racial lines irregardless of culture, so much so that if you are poor, unhealthy, uneducated, unemployed or incarcerated, than you are most likely (statistically speaking) the member of an ethnic, racial or cultural minority wherever you may reside.

In the USA, although people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned, including 1/3rd of the adult black male population over the course of their lifetime.

The male unemployment rate in France averages about 20%, excepting that 80% of all male Muslim 'people of colour' are either unemployed or unemployable.

Even in places like Denmark, the social paragons that they are, practice a form of 'beneficent' racial segregation, turning a blind eye toward the homeless (Roma) gypsy minority, not even bothering to count them as 'people' (let alone 'homeless people') even though their sleeping forms carpet the sidewalks of Copenhagen.

Of course, these facial recognition apps will streamline & modernise this entire process, allowing us to protect our daughters from unsavory influences while we discriminate indiscriminately in the most PC of fashions, by changing the name of the snake through a ban on all racially or gender insensitive terminology, all while institutionalizing its discriminating venom into our software.

Then, we can all become 'Good Germans', obeying our Apps in a guilt-free fashion, as our smartphones instruct us to avoid or eliminate the unsavory social element, in the manner of "MLK's own approved alternative".


David Brin said...