There were several news stories late last week about a new surveillance system by Hitachi Kokusai Electric that the company claims is able to capture a person's face and, in one second, scan some 36 million facial images stored in its database to see whether it can find a match. According to this story at Digital Trends:
"Hitachi’s software is able to recognize a face with up to 30 degrees of deviation turned vertically and horizontally away from the camera, and requires faces to fill at least 40 pixels by 40 pixels for accurate recognition. Any image, whether captured on a mobile phone, handheld camera, or a video still, can be uploaded and searched against its database for matches."
The company states in a video posted at DigInfoTV that it thinks the system is "suitable for customers that have a relatively large-scale surveillance system, such as railways, power companies, law enforcement, and large stores."
Over time, I suspect that the technology will be reduced in price to be "suitable" for just about anyone with a surveillance system.
Ad companies have been trying out several different methods for generating customized advertising for customers inside stores. This system, which goes on sale next year, could make that much easier, for good or bad.
I expect that, as Hitachi noted, local, state and federal law enforcement will be especially interested in such a system. Maybe the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could buy this system and use it to eliminate a lot of the security hassle at airports. If you've got my face on record from a secure, government-issued ID, why would you need to check me against my photo ID again and again, every time I fly? With such a system, TSA could positively identify you the moment you enter the airport terminal, if not the parking garage.
I also assume that the UK government, which loves its CCTV cameras, will be an early adopter of this system, and will no doubt ask if it can be used to process license plates as well.
Fifteen years ago, such a system would probably have caused an uproar over invasion of privacy. It is interesting to recall how far we have come in the past decade, in terms of the sophistication of surveillance technology as well as our acceptance of it.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.