Sunday, January 2, 2011

Watching You

Today's excellent report in the New York Times about successes in computer vision really only scratches the surface of what is happening. There are many, many tasks people do by watching or seeing that computers could do, imperfectly to be sure, but well enough to pay for themselves. I am thinking of things like watching for shoplifters (defined, say, as people who leave a store with more stuff than they entered with and did not go through a checkout process). I think one of the developing issues will be how to deal with false positives, when the computers alert authorities to something suspicious and really nothing untoward has happened. Will it be better or worse that the accusations are raised by computers than it would be if they were the result of bigoted, biased human judgments?

The single most interesting story was the last one, talking about the service Google offers to look up camera shots of buildings and works of art in its image database and return information about them:

Google could have put face recognition into the Goggles application; indeed, many users have asked for it. But Google decided against it because smartphones can be used to take pictures of individuals without their knowledge, and a face match could retrieve all kinds of personal information — name, occupation, address, workplace.
“It was just too sensitive, and we didn’t want to go there,” said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google. “You want to avoid enabling stalker behavior.”
I am impressed by this show of corporate responsibility. But won't some entrepreneur do exactly this anyway, perhaps on a contract from the FBI or the NFL (terrorists at the Superbowl!) or the government of Singapore? Google may want to organize all the world's information and make it broadly accessible, and good for Google for trying to do that responsibly, but in the long run at least Google will not be the only guys capable of doing that.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.