Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Who Watches The Watchmen?" When Computers Watch Us Who Watches Them?

When security guards walk their watch and use surveillance TVs they apply acumen, logic, intuition and skill.  When computers man the watch they use face recognition software and behavior patterns.

Recently various prisons sent their correctional officers to West Virginia for a training exercise that was different than previous exercises.  The difference was a new set of watchmen - computers.

This has far reaching opportunities to improve lives but potentially at the cost of your privacy.  That does not mean I am opposed to it.  I want to see open and vigorous debate on the pros and cons of computer surveillance and the safeguards needed to insure the government ,or the cyberbad guys, cannot abuse the technology.

I pulled this quote from a New York Times article written by Steve Lohr:
“Machines will definitely be able to observe us and understand us better,” said Hartmut Neven, a computer scientist and vision expert at Google. “Where that leads is uncertain.”

This is a vision expert from Google admitting that where this leads is uncertain.

Google is the company with the fabulous feature rich Google Maps that also had citizens concerned for their personal privacy.  The same company that has an app called "Goggles" where you can snap a photo on your smartphone and then Goggles will search the internet for matches.  Goggles purposely omitted facial recognition software due to privacy concerns.

If you have Kinect and love it, you are benefitting from the same technology.  As a player, you can wave your hand and the computer sees you through sensors and a digital camera.

There are many wonderful ways to use this technology - preventing theft or assault; searching for bad guys; checking on employees; and proactive protection and detection services.

But, it's hard to know where technology could lead us.  Using geocoding to check in at your favorite spots around town - was that on your radar before you had a smart phone?  The first time you had a videoconference at work did you think to yourself, "Oh no!  Now some kid is going to create Chatroulette?"

One more quote from the New York Times article that drives home the sensitivity and planning that needs to be considered.  When asked why they did not include facial recognition software into Goggles Eric Schmidt said, "“It was just too sensitive, and we didn’t want to go there. You want to avoid enabling stalker behavior.”

Who Watches The Watchmen?

"Computers that see you and keep watch over you", Steve Lohr, New York Times, January 1, 2011

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