1984 … today

1984.  Not the year; the dystopian novel by English novelist George Orwell.  Much of the story focuses on an omnipresent government with global mass surveillance.  In 1949, when the novel was first published, it was a futuristic fantasy of how further down the rabbit hole citizen oppression could go.  “Big brother is watching you.”  Considering the explosion of technology in the last 40 years, what was once a fairy tale, has turned into a realistic landscape.

Many, and justly so, have argue that facial recognition contributes to privacy erosion, reinforces bias against black people and is prone to misuse.  These are not unjust beliefs, nor conspiracy theories of grand delusions, they are real concerns which are built upon realities of actual events. In 2015, facial-recognition technology was used to track and arrest Baltimore protesters reacting to the police murder of Freddie Gray. It is such a great concern that San Francisco and many providers of police body cameras have barred it use by law enforcement; and employers like IBM stopped research & development on the technology all together.

However, as with many political ideologies, sometimes descent is the loudest, and is often the viewpoint that is most heard.  There are many who believe that facial recognition can do good for this world.  Their counter arguments are that one of the greatest advantages of facial recognition technology is safety and security of innocent people, of all races and gender.  A common concern with today’s system of justice is that it is reactionary.  The result of this type of system is a system of punishment that has overcrowded our prison system, removed re-habilitation from the equation, and resulted in an uncounted number of victims that may have been spared.  Utopian views, maybe, but why restrict our attempt to get there?

One of the most controversial technologies that fit into this landscape is facial recognition. A lot of the focus over the last three years, which has further increased with the Black Lives Matter movement, is the discussion of the value of facial recognition. With increased computing power, the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the increased ability to place IOT devices like cameras pretty much anywhere in the world, with the emergence of companies like Starlink, facial recognition is no longer reserved for small independent settings, but on the verge to be deployed anywhere, and capture our likeness at any time.

The argument for privacy, while solid on its foundation, is thrown to the wind with today’s social media landscape. People, purposefully and willingly put their lives and likenesses out there for all to see.  Who they are, where they are, what they like, what they believe. And yet, these same people expect their “constitutional rights” and privacy to be all encompassing when they walk onto public, and even private property. 

There is a fine line between security of our community and the privacy of an individual.  It is a line that often gets crossed in both directions.  Where can, if it exists, facial recognition provide that communal security without crossing into individual privacy.  This is going to be an interesting topic to explore over the two weeks.

My next blog will first argue against facial recognition and support the suppression of the technology by companies like IBM, Microsoft and Amazon.  Then I will follow up with an argument in support of the technology, and the benefits it can bring to both the community and even the individual.  My scholarly insights won’t end this debate, far from it, but I hope to at least help keep the conversation in flux.

What are your thoughts on facial recognition technology?  Do you only see the negatives, or do any positives resonate with you?

2 Comments on “1984 … today”

  1. Great post! We definitely agree. Despite the alleged benefits of implementing facial recognition software within a community, I think the foremost danger lies in how this power would be abused and extended to the development even more invasive technologies. Like you said, there’s certainly a balance to be found between individual rights and collective security, but we strongly believe that compromising individual freedom is one of the most dangerous things that can be done to a community as a whole. Thanks for sharing this!


    • Thanks for the reply. There is definitely a danger when the risks are high and the technology is abused. But like any technology, the ability for it to be abused is present. At what point do we stop innovating because of the bad technology could do, instead of purposing it for the good it can do. It is a question any inventor I am sure has pondered.


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