Police body-cam maker Axon says no to facial recognition, for now

Facial recognition is a controversial enough topic without bringing in everyday policing and the body cameras many (but not enough) officers wear these days. But Axon, which makes many of those cameras, solicited advice on the topic from and independent research board, and in accordance with its findings has opted not to use facial recognition for the time being.

The company, formerly known as Taser, established its “AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board” last year, and the group of 11 experts from a variety of fields just issued their first report, largely focused (by their own initiative) on the threat of facial recognition.

The advice they give is unequivocal: don’t use it — now or perhaps ever.

More specifically, their findings are as follows:

  • Facial recognition simply isn’t good enough right now for it to be used ethically.
  • Don’t talk about “accuracy,” talk about specific false negatives and positives, since those are more revealing and relevant.
  • Any facial recognition model that is used shouldn’t be overly customizable, or it will open up the possibility of abuse.
  • Any application of facial recognition should only be initiated with the consent and input of those it will affect.
  • Until there is strong evidence that these programs provide real benefits, there should be no discussion of use.
  • Facial recognition technologies do not exist, nor will they be used, in a political or ethical vacuum, so consider the real world when developing or deploying them.

The full report may be read here; there’s quite a bit of housekeeping and internal business, but the relevant part starts on page 24. Each of the above bullet points gets a couple pages of explanation and examples.

Axon, for its part, writes that it is quite in agreement: “The first board report provides us with thoughtful and actionable recommendations regarding face recognition technology that we, as a company, agree with… Consistent with the board’s recommendation, Axon will not be commercializing face matching products on our body cameras at this time.”

Not that they won’t be looking into it. The idea, I suppose, is that the technology will never be good enough to provide the desired benefits if no one is advancing the science that underpins it. The report doesn’t object except to advise the company that it adhere to the evolving best practices of the AI research community to make sure its work is free from biases and systematic flaws.

One interesting point that isn’t always brought up is the difference between face recognition and face matching. Although the former is the colloquial catch-all term for what we think of as being potentially invasive, biased, and so on, in the terminology here it is different from the latter.

Face recognition is just finding a face in the picture — this can be used by a smartphone to focus its camera or apply an effect, for instance. Face matching is taking the features of the detected face and comparing it to a database in order to match it to one on file — that could be to unlock your phone using Face ID, but it could also be the FBI comparing everyone entering an airport to the most wanted list.

Axon uses face recognition and to a lesser extent face matching to process the many, many hours of video that police departments full of body cams produce. When that video is needed as evidence, faces other than the people directly involved may need to be blurred out, and you can’t do that unless you know where the faces are and which is which.

That particular form of the technology seems benign in its current form, and no doubt there are plenty of other applications that it would be hard to disagree with. But as facial recognition techniques grow more mainstream it will be good to have advisory boards like this one keeping the companies that use them honest.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

OrCam’s MyMe uses facial recognition to remember everyone you meet

Meet the Orcam MyMe, a tiny device that you clip on your T-shirt to help you remember faces. The OrCam MyMe features a small smartphone-like camera and a proprietary facial-recognition algorithm so that you can associate names with faces. It can be a useful device at business conferences, or to learn more about how you spend a typical day.

This isn’t OrCam’s first device. The company has been selling the MyEye for a few years. It’s a wearable device for visually impaired people that you clip to your glasses. Thanks to its camera and speaker, you can point your finger at some text and get some audio version of the test near your ear. It can also tell you if there’s somebody familiar in front of you.

OrCam is expanding beyond this market with a mass market product. It features the same technological foundation, but with a different use case. OrCam’s secret sauce is that it can handle face recognition and optical character recognition on a tiny device with a small battery — images are not processed in the cloud.

It’s also important to note that the OrCam MyMe doesn’t record video or audio. When the device detects a face, it creates a signature and tries to match it with existing signatures. While it’s not a spy camera, it still feels a bit awkward when you realize that there’s a camera pointed at you.

When there’s someone in front of you, the device sends a notification to your phone and smart watch. You can then enter the name of this person on your phone so that the next notification shows the name of the person you’re talking with.

If somebody gives you a business card, you can also hold it in front of you. The device then automatically matches the face with the information on the business card.

After that, you can tag people in different categories. For instance, you can create a tag for family members, another one for colleagues and another one for friends.

The app shows you insightful graphs representing your work-life balance over the past few weeks and months. If you want to quantify everything in your life, this could be an effective way of knowing that you should spend more time with your family for instance.

While the device isn’t available just yet, the company already sold hundreds of early units on Kickstarter. Eventually, OrCam wants to create a community of enthusiasts and figure out new use cases.

I saw the device at CES last week and it’s much smaller than you’d think based on photos. You don’t notice it unless you’re looking for the device. It’s not as intrusive as Google Glass for instance. You can optionally use a magnet if the clip doesn’t work with what you’re wearing.

OrCam expects to ship the MyMe in January 2020 for $ 399. It’s an impressive little device, but the company also faces one challenge — I’m not sure everyone feels comfortable about always-on facial recognition just yet.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

HomePod firmware reveals iPhone 8 design and facial recognition

 Last week, Apple released the firmware of its upcoming smart speaker, the HomePod. It sounds like it was pushed out a bit earlier than expected as it isn’t supposed to come out until later this year. Steve Troughton-Smith took advantage of that to find out that the next iPhone is going to feature facial recognition and a brand new “bezel-less” design. Patents and previous… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Facial recognition systems stumble when confronted with million-face database

faces_feat We’re all a bit worried about the terrifying surveillance state that becomes possible when you cross omnipresent cameras with reliable facial recognition — but a new study suggests that some of the best algorithms are far from infallible when it comes to sorting through a million or more faces. The University of Washington’s MegaFace Challenge is an open competition among… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

New Glasses Thwart Facial Recognition Scanners, Marking Trend In Privacy Wearables

P-visor_Wearing.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

In an unexpected twist against the rising tide of image-capturing technologies, an engineer has created glasses that thwart facial recognition scanners. Tokyo’s National Institute of Informatics Professor Isao Echizen’s “Privacy Visor” emits an infrared light source that reportedly confuses facial recognition software. Last week, another designer announced a stealth hoodie that blocks the thermal radiation scanners used by spy drones, marking what could be a trend in privacy wearables.

“Essential measures for preventing the invasion of privacy caused by photographs taken in secret and unintentional capture in camera images is now required,” said Professor Echizen, whose clunky-looking prototype still requires a personal pocket power source to operate. Previously, users could cake on heavy makeup or tilt their head 15 degrees to confuse scanners, but, according to Slate, the professor found that Google’s Picasa imagine management software could still recognize him – prompting him to concoct a more sophisticated disguise.

Last week, designer Adam Harvey launched a line of “Stealth Wear” for what he jokingly referred to as the “fashionably paranoid market.” Harvey’s concept line includes an “anti-drone” hoodie with metalized material and special cell phone pouch to block cell phone tracking.

Harvey was an early pioneer in the space, making headlines for an anti-paparazzi purse that automatically emits a photo-obscuring burst of light in response to camera bulbs.

The government, however, isn’t waiting for the private sector to find a fashion-friendly solution to privacy concerns. Facebook’s ongoing initiatives into automatic photo-tagging software and retail mannequins that scan shoppers have prompted aggressive overtures from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate the new technologies.

Of course, as with any philosophical movement, there’s at least an equal and opposite reaction. Last fall, British maker OMG Pic (yes, that’s their actual name) announced Autographer, a high-resolution wearable camera that automatically logs up to 2,000 pictures a day.

With any luck, paranoid users and lifebloggers will spark a privacy/life-capturing arms race of ever-clunkier wearables. Because, honestly, we don’t have enough to think about already.

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