Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance

Evgeny Morozov writes:

It isn’t easy to teach a computer to recognise a face. Definitions don’t help: if you describe a face as ‘a blob-like region with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth’, you still need to define an eye, a nose, an ear and a mouth. As the number of potential differences between any two pictures of the same face is infinite, it’s impossible to write an algorithm that can take account of all such variations. Given its spotty track record, it’s hard to see why facial recognition technology has so quickly become one of the most widely used forms of biometrics (second only to fingerprints). Kelly Gates’s Our Biometric Future, a thorough exploration of FRT’s relatively short history, provides some clues. Compared to other biometric technologies, FRT has one enormous advantage – it doesn’t require consent, co-operation or even the subject’s knowledge – and many smaller ones.

(LRB 5 April 2012)