Computer Vision, friend or foe?

POSTED BY Jason Porter on Oct 12, 2011

For those keeping up with the tech blogs, it seems that the last few years (months?!) have seen exponential progress in the field of Computer Vision.  For non-geeks, Computer Vision refers to the science/study of getting computer programs to understand the real-world around them.  For example, facial recognition technology falls into this category; that your computer would be able to know it was “you” and not just randomly occurring shapes.  Other more popular examples would be consumer devices like Microsoft’s kinect or even Stanford’s self-driving car.  We’ve been playing around in the lab with a lot of this stuff and I’ve found these new advances to be extremely exciting.  The potential for interactivity offered by the Kinect alone is simply mind numbing - not to mention other tech like openCV.

But I wonder if this excitement will last?  While these breakthroughs open wide the doors for innovation/interactivity for what we do (commercial application) they are gaining even more momentum in less, uh, "fun" applications like government programs.  From drones flying over Afghanistan to cameras in subway systems and airports that monitor “behavioral indicators”, Computer Vision is finding its way into applications where laws become blurry and ethics are simply uncharted.  My question (and muse for posting) is what effect will the bad have on the good and visa-versa.?

This is where I get dark [que dramatic music].  In what I see as a soon-coming future where computers are interacting with us (not just us with them) I wonder will the enthusiasm generated by the more consumer friendly varieties (eg, Kinect) lure us into compromising on less ethical deployments of the technology (eg, Camera’s that can lable you as potentially hostile by watching how fast you blink and breath).

Conversely, perhaps the growing awareness that technology has long-since overpowered our ability to keep secrets seed a cultural revolution against the idea of Computer Vision everywhere, all the time, always watching.

I have no answers, just thought it was an interesting question :)

Links as food for thought:

HUGE leaps made in facial recognition technology

Computer vision can drive a car (flawlessly):

DHS will monitor airports for “mal intent”:

Kinect as an advertisers dream:

Computer Vision informs unmanned drones when to “kill”:

WRITTEN BY Jason Porter

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