Seven thou­sand peo­ple have your face

The Jakarta Post - - OPINION - Nury Vit­tachi

Areader said she saw me in her city. “But I’ve never been there,” I said. “I just have a com­mon face.” This hap­pens a lot. I once rec­og­nized my­self on the other side of a crowded bar once be­fore re­al­iz­ing that it was prob­a­bly some­one else. (It was late and drink was in­volved.)

Any­way, hav­ing a com­mon face was never a worry un­til this week when au­to­mated face recog­ni­tion de­vices started spring­ing up ev­ery­where.

At Hong Kong air­port out­bound im­mi­gra­tion desk of­fi­cers are be­ing re­placed by cam­eras, and Delhi railway sta­tion will soon have face recog­ni­tion de­vices on plat­forms.

Rus­sians are de­vel­op­ing a de­vice that rec­og­nizes faces and tells the user their names. When­ever it hears you say: “Of course I re­mem­ber you, you’re, um…” it will in­stantly search the data­base and whis­per an an­swer in your ear, which you can then use to im­press the per­son with. “You’re… Mr… Not­foundin Data­base.”

News ar­ti­cles men­tion that there could be prob­lems, but the writ­ers don’t re­al­ize there al­ready are. In Shen­zhen and other Chi­nese cities, se­cret cam­eras pho­to­graph your face if you cross the road be­fore the green man is flash­ing, and put your name, age and ad­dress on a gi­ant “wall of shame” screen. This en­ables out­raged cit­i­zens to give you a suit­able pu­n­ish­ment, such as burn­ing down your apart­ment block and curs­ing your fam­ily for seven gen­er­a­tions.

Three Chi­nese women who went to South Korea for beau­ti­fy­ing plas­tic surgery ear­lier this month got stuck at the out­ward im­mi­gra­tion desks since they no longer looked like the pho­to­graphs in their pass­ports. Try ex­plain­ing to a cam­era: “But surely you don’t pre­fer my pre­vi­ous nose?”

Now face recog­ni­tion is com­ing to our phones. If you’re kid­napped and your ab­duc­tors give you a black eye, your phone will lock it­self and say: “You’re not my mas­ter, you lumpy-faced stranger.”

Ja­panese sci­en­tist Shi­ge­omi Koshimizu got over the fa­cial changes prob­lem by insert­ing 360 hid­den sen­sors into a seat to pre­cisely mea­sure your bot­tom. He put the de­vice in a car and pro­grammed the ve­hi­cle to turn it­self on if it felt that your butt was fa­mil­iar. Some sci­en­tist say butt­trig­gered se­cu­rity de­vices are the way of the fu­ture.

This seems risky, given the ris­ing obe­sity rates. “Hello, boss? I can’t come to work to­day as my car thinks my bot­tom is too fat.”

One reader, busi­ness­man Karuna Menon, said he liked the idea. He said that the next time a guy’s wife asks if her butt looks big, the hus­band can just say: “I dunno, ask the car.”

What about those of us with com­mon faces? A techy friend said that Ap­ple had cal­cu­lated that the odds of some­one hav­ing a face sim­i­lar enough to be able to un­lock your phone is lit­er­ally one in a mil­lion. That means there are 7,499 peo­ple in the world with a face ex­actly like mine. Poor them.

I shared this fac­toid with my kids and they were typ­i­cally prag­matic about it. “If you die, Daddy, we can just get an­other one.” The writer is a jour­nal­ist and colum­nist.

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