FTI Newsletter, Issue 105

FTI Newsletter, Issue 104
May 29, 2018
Take FTI’s Global Survey on Media’s Futures
June 19, 2018

Computers that never forget a face

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In August, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will roll out new technology that will scan the faces of drivers as they enter and leave the United States. For years, accomplishing that kind of surveillance through a car windshield has been difficult. But technology is quickly advancing. This system, activated by ambient light sensors, range finders and remote speedometers, uses smart cameras and AI-powered facial recognition technology to compare images in government files with people behind the wheel.

Biometric borders are just the beginning. Faceprints are quickly becoming our new fingerprints, and this technology is marching forward with haste. Faceprints are now so advanced that machine learning algorithms can recognize your unique musculatures and bone structures, capillary systems, and expressions using thousands of data points. All the features that make up a unique face are being scanned, captured and analyzed to accurately verify identities. New hairstyle? Plastic surgery? They don’t interfere with the technology’s accuracy.


Why you should care. Faceprints are already being used across China for secure payments. Soon, they will be used to customize and personalize your digital experiences. Our Future Today Institute modeling shows myriad near-future applications, including the ability to unlock your smart TV with your face. Retailers will use your face to personalize your in-store shopping experience. Auto manufacturers will start using faceprints to detect if drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and prevent them from driving. It’s plausible that cars will soon detect if a driver is distracted and take the wheel using an auto-pilot feature. On a diet but live with others? Stash junk food in a drawer and program the lock to restrict your access. Faceprints will soon create opportunities for a wide range of sectors, including military, law enforcement, retail, manufacturing and security. But as with all technology, faceprints could lead to the loss of privacy and widespread surveillance.

It’s possible for both risk and opportunity to coexist. The point here is not alarmist hand-wringing, or pointless calls for cease-and-desist demands on the development and use of faceprint technology. Instead, it’s to acknowledge an important emerging trend––faceprints––and to think about the associated risks and opportunities for you and your organization well in advance. Approach biometric borders and faceprints with your (biometrically unique) eyes wide open.


Emerging Tech Trend: Faceprints as biometric identifiers

Key Insight: Faceprints identify a person’s unique face from near and far distances with astounding precision. Machine learning algorithms are used to analyze bone structure, skin color, musculature, capillaries, and movements to recognize someone or authenticate them. Faceprints are being used across many applications.

Examples: Researchers at Tokyo’s NEC Corp. plan to deploy faceprint technology for the 2020 Olympics, taking multiple 
3D scans to quickly check a person’s face against those catalogued in a registry. Meanwhile, computer scientists in Japan and neighboring China are developing representation models that require only portions of faces, even in low light, to accurately predict identities. Facelifts and new hairstyles won’t impact the technology’s accuracy. In Germany, computer scientists create thermal faceprints by taking heat maps of faces and using machine vision to recognize patterns. The technology can accurately identify a face in less than 35 milliseconds, regardless of the amount of lighting or the facial expressions people make.

Near-Futures Scenarios (2018 – 2028):

  • Optimistic: Faceprints make us safer, and they bring us back to physical offices and stores. With the right security in place, faceprints will allow us to leave our plastic credit cards and cash at home. We’ll be able to shop effortlessly, and they’ll empower retailers to offer us a more personalized experience in the real-world. Forget about lost car keys: Chinese auto manufacturer Byton sells an electric SUV that unlocks with a faceprint, rather than a key fob. As we transition to fully-autonomous cars, faceprints could mean safer driving. Drunk or distracted drivers wouldn’t be able to drive without assistance.
  • Pragmatic: As faceprint adoption grows, legal challenges mount.
    In April, a U.S. federal judge ruled that Facebook must confront a class-action lawsuit that alleges its faceprint technology violates Illinois state privacy laws. Last year, a U.S. federal judge allowed a class-action suit to go forth against Shutterfly, claiming the company violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which ensures companies receive written releases before collecting biometric data, including faces. Companies and device manufacturers, who are early developers but late to analyzing legal outcomes, are challenged to balance consumer privacy with new security benefits.
  • CatastrophicFaceprints are used for widespread surveillance and authoritative control. Here’s a simple question: Who owns your face? What if someone hacks your face…how would you get it back? As of June 2018, we don’t have answers to these questions. Today, it’s easy to change a password to side-step or at least mitigate a hacking episode. But how could you replace your face? During the next decade, we could find ourselves being surveilled constantly. Faceprints can be taken from far away and without the user’s knowledge. China, which invested sovereign wealth funds, along with Russia, into startup Megvii Face++, is now using the technology to help its China’s police force perform widespread surveillance. For instance, if a Chinese citizen jaywalks in downtown Beijing, cameras will identify the person, post their photo on an electronic billboard and send a message to their employer, publicly shaming them and threatening their job. This kind of surveillance can easily be exported to other authoritative countries, further harming their safety and the human rights of citizens. A hacked database of biometrics could pose enormous threats to individuals, governments, companies and more.

Action Meter:

Watchlist: FaceTec; Megvii; CyLab Biometrics Center at Carnegie Mellon University; Noveto; SenseTime; Sensible Vision; China; Russia; Alphabet; LG; Apple; Facebook; Alibaba; Samsung; Android; NEC; U.S. Government Accountability Office.


Around the Institute

The Future of AI on the Wall Street Journal Podcast
Listen to a live recording of the WSJ’s Nikki Waller and FTI’s Amy Webb in conversation at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything conference. Listen or download here.

Leading With Foresight
The latest issue of MT Magazine profiles the Future Today Institute and our foresight methodology. We explain how managers and executives can lead with foresight. Read it here (article is in Dutch).

Summer Futures Quarterly Submissions
Once a quarter, FTI produces a quarterly journal featuring new books, essays, podcasts and shows — all in an effort to help you think more broadly about the future. Read/ seen/ listened to something amazing and want to share it with the world? Or have you written/ recorded/ created something that others should see? Submit it to our Futures Quarterly picker!

Download the 11th annual edition of the FTI Emerging Tech Trends Report. The Future Today Institute’s 11th annual Tech Trends report identifies 225 tantalizing advancements in emerging technologies—artificial intelligence, biotech, autonomous robots, green energy, smart farms, and space travel—that will begin to enter the mainstream and fundamentally disrupt business, geopolitics and everyday life around the world. Our annual report has garnered more than 6 million cumulative views, and this edition is our largest to date. Download the full, 248-page high-resolution PDF here. Note: you’ll be redirected to our WeTransfer file sharing site.

For workshops, research collaborations and speaking requests, visit the Future Today Institute website.


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