Delight and Apple’s Face ID

Om Malik:

The reason Face ID works is because of some key silicon innovations — yes, there is that TrueDepth camera system made up of a dot projector, infrared camera and flood illuminator and a seven megapixel camera. Face ID projects more than 30,000 invisible IR dots. The resulting IR image and dot pattern is then used to create a mathematical model of your face and send the data to the secure enclave to confirm a match, while adapting to physical changes in appearance over time. What decodes the data captured by this camera (for lack of a better descriptor) are neural capabilities of its A11 Bionic chip. I saw this first hand and was blown away by the effectiveness of Face ID.

The FaceID is a perfect illustration of Apple’s not so secret “secret sauce” — a perfect symbiosis of silicon, physical hardware, software, and designing for delight. Their abilities to turn complex technologies into a magical moment is predicated on this harmonious marriage of needs.

I appreciate that a lot of people in the security and technologist community are dubious of Face ID. There are reasonable concerns about whether the technology will enable law enforcement or other third-parties to unlock a person’s phone by flashing it phone in front of their face, and whether or not it will even work.

But all of those questions fail to get what Apple doing with Face ID. Don’t believe me? Then go find entirely normal users who walk into a Best Buy and buy a laptop without doing any real research, and subsequently discovering their Windows laptop supports logging in with the infrared camera. They are amazed by the technology and tend to be pretty forgiving it doesn’t always work perfectly.

If Apple can ensure that Face ID works reliably then they’re going to have an amazing halo product because, remember, those who are amazed by Face ID likely won’t own one of the new top-of-the-line iPhones. So, instead, Face ID will function as an aspirational feature that few people will have but that many will want, and likely lead to regular users purchasing the first ‘normal’ iPhone that has this cool feature.


Caught on Camera?

Caught on Camera?:

According to Christopher Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow and the managing director of the telecommunications transparency project at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the broadest applications to date [of facial recognition technologies] involve tranches of official photos maintained by government agencies that issue identification documents, such as passports and driver’s licenses.

In recent years, he adds, facial recognition software has become substantially more sophisticated. The advent of so-called 3-D recognition techniques allows the software to make matches between official posed photos and informal, un-posed ones—e.g., images posted on social media sites. What’s more, these biometric algorithms, which can “learn” to recognize faces based on composites developed from multiple images, are no longer restricted to government security. Facebook has a facial recognition app, and at least two developers have built apps for Google Glass that purport to be able to run facial images through picture databases from dating sites or sex offender registries, Forbes reported earlier this year.

To date, this kind of cross-referencing hasn’t produced great results, says Parsons, although he adds that the latest generation “is better than it used to be.”

And in Canada? Police in Vancouver successfully used facial recognition technology to identify looters during the Stanley Cup riot in 2011, drawing from videos submitted by bystanders as well as CCTV images. The technology was also deployed during the G8/G20 in Toronto. But Parsons points out that at date, there’s not enough data on general law enforcement applications to determine whether this sort of facial recognition is effective.



Picking out a face in the crowd: Toronto police considering facial recognition technology

Picking out a face in the crowd: Toronto police considering facial recognition technology:

But for all its abilities, privacy advocates caution that the technology raises big questions about surveillance, and has potential implications for members of the public who aren’t suspects of a crime.

In cases like these, the technology has clear advantages, says privacy expert Christopher Parsons, a fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

“Serious crimes — rapes, murders, manslaughter — these are the kinds of crimes that must be brought to justice,” he says. “But for other crimes, lesser crimes, maybe those aren’t the situations where we [should] use these really efficient, high-tech systems.” The risk, he says, is that “it starts … criminalizing a large portion of the population.”

Police aren’t the only organizations to employ this type of technology. Some department stores and retail chains also use it to catch repeat shoplifters. But Parsons points out there is a difference between private individuals capturing images and the police.

“[Private individuals] don’t have the power to arrest,” he says.