Sunday, 28 February 2010

On Google, and Face Recognition.

On Google: Well yes. here I am, writing this on Blogger, owned by Google. I connect to the net using Firefox, with a google toolbar. I could use Google's own browser, Chrome, but I like Firefox better. My computer's contents are indexed by Google Desktop search, my primary email is a Gmail account, my photos are sorted edited, and uploaded by Google' Picasa.
I go travelling on the astral plane now and then by courtesy of google earth.. I may have wandered down your street, or buzzed over your house with Google-earth, or stood outside using google streetview.
Google's products are pretty amazing. Back in the nineties, in the days of 56K modem dialups and slow page loads, (ohh i remember those heady days of the superfast Windows 95 coming out...) Internet explorer was young, Netscape Navigator was its rival, AOL rained free disks down in every mail delivery trying to coax new customers... Anyway, back then, I was fascinated by search engines. I had a folder of favourites, and I used one called "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which aggregated lots of different searchers, Web spiders, they were often known as, then.
One day, I don't know just when, 1998 probably, I found this new search engine, called Google. From day one it was better than Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, all of them. In a fairly short time, It became the only search engine I needed, I so wish I'd had money to invest in those early days.

Now, from a system that ran off a few computers and a then huge 28 gb disk drive at Stanford to todays vast worldwide empire.
The company's motto "Do No Evil". And as I said, my computer, my everyday life all are googled.

Recently, Google's "Picasa" free photomanagement software was upgraded. And now it has facial recognition as standard.
It trawls through your drives, finds every image there, organises them nicely in folders, and extracts thumbnails of every face it can see. well okay, in my case, every face and one landrover door-hinge.
It then presents you with a few thumbnails and invites you to label them with names. So, say I label "Uncle Ted", (Uncle Ted is a mythical, just invented by me person, by the way)  in a short while, picasa will present me with sixty or so other faces it thinks may be Uncle Ted. It invites me to click on a tick, or a cross, yea or nay. The more I tick, the better its accuracy at deciding whether an image may be uncle Ted or not.
My verdict?
Uncannily accurate.
But then it occurs to me. Some of my albums are web albums. But anyway, google/picasa might be talking to home, Mountain View California, whether I know it or not. Imagine. It now knows what Uncle Ted looks like.  But maybe I'm not the only Picasa user who's got Ted in their albums. Maybe somewhere else, he's there as Eddie Verney, Or Doc V. Or Loverboy? Or Spanglepants?
Megagoogle gradually puts together images from other users (0.00023 milliseconds), Ted's workplaces, a street surveillance camera in Bangkok, an ATM in new York... It sees his old school pics on Friends Reunited. It listens to his twitter stream. It knows who he knows, who appears in pictures with him. Thanks to Pam's Christmas You tube video, it knows his voice, so it can find him in the world's phonechatter, it knows what car he drives, where he is on streetview, it watches him in a bar, it's in his iphone.
How soon before you can click on a picture of Ted and ask to see all the othe pictures of him it can find?
"Well, I never knew that about him, Who's she? Where did they get the goat?"

Are you feeling claustrophobic yet?

Some years ago, I read a book, a thriller in which a man is executed by... a gun, fixed co-axially to a street surveillance camera. His facial co-ordinates have been fed into the London city centre computer, which, in real-life, was proudly presented as having facial recognition abilities "To alert Police and track known shoplifters" Hahahahaaa! Shoplifters. I'll bet... Anyway, in the book, the camera is told to watch for that face, track on it, and, when certain parameters are met, send a signal... The bad guy will, at some time in the next three months, visit London. He always walks down Oxford street.
So. At some time, the camera will see, the computer will identify, track, triangulate, signal, BANG!
And the victim lies in the street with a neat hole in his forehead, no assassin is found.
I mentioned this to my tame Um.. Person with insider knowledge. And he (or she, or it) laughed. "We've had that ability for years"

And I suppose that's what some of those drones above war zones have, built in. But here it is. in a free photo package from Google. Poor Ted. He never knew what hit him.


  1. ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! (the sound of a mule screaming)

  2. Hmm perhaps you should have a word with Mouse...

  3. i'm waiting for the googlemaps colonoscopy. heard recently that on the googlemaps streetlevel, they're adding the interiors of the buildings and thought the next step had to be the interiors of us. someone looks up my street address and voila, yo dude, it looks like you've got a polyp that needs attention. i'm sure if anyone, you're up on the military robots they're making. i saw a video of one that had four legs, shaped a bit like a tall buffalo and it could keep it's balance on sheer ice. complete with machine guns, this thing scares the hell out of me and wait til the other side (whoever that is) gets ahold of our drones and reverse engineers them... of course it's the software that is the threat really.

  4. RDG.... wuzzent that a movie? "The Screaming of the Mules?"
    I preferred "The Contented Sighing of the Mule".

  5. gz: that would be the mouse who signed up for the google sanctuary?

    Ha! just went there, to find that same Mouse linking back here, left a comment, returned home to find, simultaneously that the mouse had left a comment over here. It's a complex business, this web-slurping.

  6. Jim: Your colon was not a pretty sight.
    I had to exit Google Colon early, via the hotkey combo, ctrl+cl, which shortcuts out via Google Colostomy....

    You're probably right though. There is a 3d human body navigation thing, I found it once. It's supposed to be a resource for med students, a multi scanned and sliced human. But I could just imagine google's branding.

    That Robot? I'm guessing you're referring to Boston Dynamics' "Big Dog" project?
    I've been following it for a year or two. It is truly amazing, and strangely unsettling. And more strange the feeling of outrage when someone gives it a big kick or a push to try make it fall.. For a moment, I feel anger, as if they'd abused a real animal.


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