tymshft

There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Archive for the category “business”

Sterling Crispin asks what facial recognition is recognizing

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometrics industry.)

Planet Biometrics brought Sterling Crispin to my attention. Crispin is an artist who explores the relationship between technology and humanity.

Technology is an extension of humanity and an embodiment of the human spirit, rather than an external force that one must mitigate. Yet this distributed life-form pulsing on the surface of the earth has its own agency and agenda. My artistic practice explores the relationships between this exponentially growing techno-organism as it relates to spirituality, human consciousness and impermanence.

One of his projects includes his look at my industry. If you are not familiar with the way in which biometric matching systems (such as automated fingerprint identification systems and facial recognition systems) work, it’s important to note that such systems do not compare fingerprints and faces per se. They take images of fingerprints and faces and then process them, reducing them to mathematical representations that can be processed by computers and “matched.” (See this post for an example of how fingerprints are represented in a system.)

The end result is what interests Crispin.

Theoretically, I am concerned with the aggressive overdevelopment of surveillance technology and how this is changing human identity and how humanity interacts with technology. By technology I mean individual instances of technological devices and networked systems like cameras and software, but also what I identify as the ’Technological Other’, a global living super-organism of all machines and software. Technically, my specific focus has been in reverse engineering facial recognition, facial detection, and image correlation techniques in order to reveal how they represent human identity.

The result, according to Crispin, is something that a facial recognition algorithm will recognize as a face, but that does not qualify as a “face” by our common understanding.

Sterling Crispin data mask

While I do not agree with Crispin’s belief that our dependence upon these technologies is somehow converting them into “animistic deities brought out of the algorithmic-spirit-world of the machine and into our material world,” I will grant that the data masks remind us that our biometric records, Twitter avatars, and even voice or video recordings are not us.

However, Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.

In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded. (I’ve touched on this before.) Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.

You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.

Tangential postscript – earlier in this post, I referred to something that I wrote back in September. Although it was supposedly a fiction story, there was a brief mention of a character named “Officer Jim.”

She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

There really was an “Officer Jim.” For many years, James Conley worked for the Anaheim Police Department. Among his many responsibilities, Conley was responsible for managing the city’s automated fingerprint identification system – initially a Printrak system provided by my employer Motorola, and subsequently a system provided by my company’s competitor 3M Cogent. After I wrote my post with its “Officer Jim,” the real James Conley passed away suddenly. He will be missed.

But women can’t write manly things

I was reading about the transition from Middle English to Modern English, and ran across this statement in a paragraph about William Caxton:

For the first time, nonprofessional scribes, including women, were writing at length.

We certainly can’t have any of that, can we?

Back in the mid-1980s, I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy Fontana, who was a relative of some people at my church. However, most of you don’t know her as Dorothy Fontana. She is more famous by the name that she used for most of her written work, D.C. Fontana. In the 1960s, when Fontana wrote for “The Tall Man” and other TV series, including one called “Star Trek,” there weren’t a lot of women writing for those shows. Actually, there were; you just didn’t know it:

[F]ew women were writing under their own names. Pat Fielder wrote under her name, but Pat is kind of a nebulous name. Margaret Arman. She was a great friend. Leigh Bracket in films and there were others who were active then. Joyce Perry came along. Today, the women on the CSI’s are very strong writers. So it’s changed a little bit, but a lot hasn’t changed. On the action adventure shows, you still see more male names than female names. But, it’s a little better.

So these days, we have extremely famous writers such as J.K. Rowling. (Joanne.)

And we have all the GamerGate ugliness.

It’s a little better, but not by much.

The first telephhone book wasn’t a book…and didn’t have any telephone numbers

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol when I was struck by this sentence:

Telecommunication companies’ understanding of directory requirements were well developed after some 70 years of producing and managing telephone directories.

I then asked myself the question – when was the first telephone book created? According to this page, it appeared on February 21, 1878. It listed all of the subscribers of the New Haven (Connecticut) District Telephone Company.

But when you look at the directory, you’ll notice two things.

First, you’ll notice that it consists of a single page. Since telephones were in their infancy, there weren’t a whole bunch of people with telephones at the time. Only eleven residences, for example, had telephones.

Second, you’ll notice that there are no telephone numbers. That’s because telephone numbers hadn’t been invented yet. If Rev. John E. Todd wanted to call the American Tea Co., Rev. Todd would simply pick up the phone and ask to be connected to the tea people. The idea of telephone numbers wouldn’t be invented until 1892.

And, of course, the telephone was tied to a wall by a cord…something that would persist for over a century.

It will be harder to key your car

[DISCLOSURE: I work for a subsidiary of Morpho, one of the companies mentioned in this post.]

Back in the late twentieth century, if you wanted to unlock and start your car, you would use a metal object called a “key.” I still use such a device today.

Alternatives to keys have emerged, and Morpho and Valeo are working on one of those alternatives:

Morpho has teamed up with its technology partner Valeo, a major automotive equipment supplier, to introduce Valeo InBlue™ Virtual Key System, an innovative virtualization and remote car key management solution.

The Valeo InBlue™ Virtual Key System turns users’ mobile phones into a connected key with which they can lock, unlock and start their cars….

And since a smartphone has a lot more computing and communication capability than your average hunk of metal, there are other things that you can do.

And when you couple the capability of a smartphone to start a car with the capability of a car to be driverless, you could do some pretty fantastic – or pretty terrifying – stuff.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion on Quora about driverless cars vs. augmented cars.

I see what you’re doing with that picture

I probably first heard about Section 508 in 2008. If you haven’t heard of Section 508:

Section 508 requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. IT Accessibility & Workforce Division, in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation.

At the time I was a product manager for an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) software package, and we could certainly make sure that our software allowed adjustment of colors for color-blind people, and included other features to meet the needs of the disabled.

However, I drew the line at one feature.

An AFIS provides the ability to display two grayscale fingerprint or palmprint images on the computer screen, so that a certified print examiner can visually compare the two prints to see if they came from the same finger or palm segment.

Fingerprint verification
Fingerprint verification screen. Source: Neurotechnology

While it is certainly true that deaf people can perform this activity, I did not see any way that blind people could compare two grayscale images. If you cannot see a picture, it’s possible to read a tooltip that describes the picture (“This is a picture of a watermelon”); however, I couldn’t conceive of any way that one could write a textual description of an individual fingerprint.

In retrospect, my thinking was limited.

Take Kim Charlson of Watertown, Massachusetts, who created a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The bottom of this page includes a document that tells you how to make your own Eiffel Tower picture. The instructions begin as follows:

Line 1: Space 6 times, write The Eiffel Tower
Line 2: Space 9 times, write Paris, France
Line 3: Space 15 times, write 1 s, write 1 wh sign.
Line 4: Space 14 times, write 4 g’s.
Line 5: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 6: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 7: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.

As it turns out, I am very familiar with this method of picture creation, since we did it often in Miss Jack’s typing class in school. Of course, back in those days, we created the pictures on a typewriter. (If you don’t know what a typewriter is, see this post.)

But Kim Charlson didn’t create the Eiffel Tower picture for your run-of-the-mill typewriter.

Charlson created this picture for a Braille printer.

Yes, Braille. You see, this picture can be printed on a Braille printer, allowing blind people to feel it and therefore “see” it.

Of course, this 25-line “picture” of the Eiffel Tower is an extremely rudimentary picture, and nothing like the 1,000+ line pictures of fingerprint and palmprint images that an AFIS would show. It isn’t like you can take a picture with a camera and then print it.

Or can you?

[T]he Touch Sight camera makes it possible for the visually impaired to take pictures. The photographer holds the camera up to his or her forehead, and a Braille-like screen on the back makes a raised image of whatever the lens sees….

Designed by Chueh Lee from Samsung China, the camera aims to provide a means of recording the mental photograph that the visually-impaired create of their surroundings using senses other than sight….

Not only is this camera made for people who are blind to take photos, it’s also possible to link this to the vectorization and 3D printers raised images so that the blind can touch and feel and “see” it. This takes this camera a step further.

Now I have no idea if this camera ever made it to market, because the description above is of a prototype camera that was displayed…in 2008.

Yup, the same year that I believed that you couldn’t have blind fingerprint examiners make print image comparisons.

Of course, there’s the whole question of market demand – to my knowledge, the International Association for Identification has never certified a blind fingerprint examiner, so there’s no business call for the AFIS vendors to satisfy their needs – but the ability for blind people to perform print image comparisons is theoretically possible.

When mandatory police cams become public entertainment

“Excuse me,” Steve said to the waitress. “I specifically asked that you substitute bacon for the ground beef in my triple bacon burger.”

Steve and Kim were enjoying – well, Kim was enjoying – a brief lunch break from work.

As the waitress corrected Steve’s order, he turned to Kim. “So, what are you doing tonight after work?”

“I’m going to watch the police webcams,” she replied.

“What, the ones in New York City?” asked Steve.

“No, our local police department has them now. If you go to the Cams page at their website, you can see streaming video from every police officer who is on duty.”

It was true. While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Even Kim, who worked for a public safety software provider, found herself addicted to the feeds. She especially liked them when officers Jim and Pat (no last names used) were on patrol on Saturday nights. While most of the shift work was frankly boring, there was always the chance that Jim and Pat would run into some drug-crazed citizen who was trying to get to Disneyland via Frisbee. She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

As she was telling all of this to Steve, Kim noticed two officers walking into the restaurant – and then immediately noticed a young teenage boy running toward the officers, his face pointing directly at the camera on one of the officers’ chests.

“18th Street rules!” the teen shouted at the camera. Then looking at the officers’ faces, he shouted, “And what are you going to do – shoot me? You’re being watched! 18th Street!”

As the teen raced out of the restaurant, Kim heard one of the officers say something.

“Too bad for him that we were off duty and our cameras were turned off.”

Sales pitch in aisle 7, but only if you’re in aisle 19

Back when supermarkets first came into existence, marketing to shoppers was so easy. You’d take out an ad in the local paper, or perhaps send some coupons in the mail, and let the shoppers run wild (with their shopping carts) throughout the store.

Then it got a little more complex, as stores began using new pitching methods, such as electronic mail, and new tactics, such as having a person on aisle 7 with samples of Name Brand Tasty Expensive Crackers.

But we haven’t seen anything yet, as supermarkets look for more and more ways to increase their pencil-thin profit margins.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper reported on some research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Faculty member J. Jeffrey Inman and others wanted to look at supermarket buying habits. The first part of their research was fairly intuitive, when you think about it.

[O]n average, shoppers cover half the territory in a grocery store, about 1,400 feet. Every additional 55 feet traveled triggers an additional dollar in unplanned spending, which occurs because shoppers end up seeing more items they want to buy.

Considering all of the effort that supermarkets devote to product placement, it isn’t surprising that we shoppers end up buying a lot of things that we didn’t intend to buy. So for supermarkets, the secret is to keep us wandering around in the store, like rats in a maze, so that we see more and more stuff that we want to buy.

But how can we be encouraged to wander around the store? Inman and his colleagues conducted some additional research with smartphone-using shoppers, as Forbes’ Van Riper explains.

Inman took one sample of people and divided them into two groups: 1) those getting a coupon [via smartphone] for a product located close to the path they would normally travel, 2) those getting a coupon for a product further off that path, forcing them to cover more ground in the store.

Result: those forced off the beaten path spent $21 more than they had planned to, while those sticking closer to their routine spent $13 more than planned, a 61% difference.

Provided that the shopper opts-in to smartphone use and purchase and location tracking, this provides powerful potential revenue for stores.

And it’s certainly a better incentive plan than having attack dogs chase shoppers through the store.

What goes around comes around – the record industry

I have previously observed that the supermarket chains who are complaining about Walmart aren’t entirely guiltless, since the supermarkets wiped out a whole bunch of markets back in the day. But the evolution of business is not limited to the grocery industry.

On Saturday, May 30, the band Berlin performed at Rhino Records in Claremont, California, and David Allen was there. He recorded the following comment by Berlin’s Terri Nunn:

“Can I tell you how great it is to be in a record store?”

Nunn’s love of record stores isn’t just because of her career as a recording artist. As Allen notes, quoting Nunn:

Her parents owned a small record shop in Reseda in the early 1970s “until Tower and Wherehouse killed us off.”

Now I’ll admit that I participated in that killing – I’d take the bus to the Tower Records on SE 82nd St. in Portland when I could, and I’d drop in to Wherehouse and other chains after moving to California. But those who didn’t like the chains are having the last laugh today, since Tower Records and Wherehouse Music are long gone.

The Virgin Megastore chain, however, is still thriving – in the Middle East.

Virgin Megastore has been a high street icon everywhere from Times Square in New York to Sydney, Australia since Richard Branson opened the first music store on Oxford Street in London in 1976.

You can buy CDs, DVDs, games, books, apparel and electronics from Virgin music and entertainment stores in the Middle East and Gulf countries:

• visit Virgin Megastore in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE

However, times they are a-changin’, and sad but true – Virgin Megastores are no longer open in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Your assumptions about time are not universal

From Olga Mecking (European Mama):

In his book, “The Shadow of the Sun”, Ryszard Kapuściński writes about differences in the perception of time between African or Western cultures. In the West, the buses run after a schedule. In Africa, it runs when it is full. In some cultures, time is linear, from birth to death, it shows a process, a progress, a development. In other cultures, time is cyclical and always follows the same path: the four seasons, a woman’s monthly cycle, holidays and celebrations.

More here.

The pendulum is shifting away from the cloud. Told you so.

For years, I have been espousing a pendulum theory. Briefly, it states that we alternate between a “benevolent” model and a “rugged individualist” model. In the latter, computers (and things that are like computers, such as refrigerators) stand alone and do not depend upon anything else, but if they fail, they fail. In the benevolent model, an entity such as a time-sharing company or a cloud provider runs the show; you aren’t totally dependent upon yourself any more, but you are somewhat dependent upon this other entity.

Over the last few years, with all of the cloud hullabaloo, we have clearly been on the “benevolent” side of the pendulum. We don’t have to worry about our email, our Adobe files, or our Siri instructions – but if our email provider, Adobe, or Apple go down, we’re in trouble.

But, as any fool could predict (which is why I predicted it), we’re starting to see a retreat from the cloud. It even has a super-cool name: the “fog.”

The problem of how to get things done when we’re dependent on the cloud is becoming all the more acute as more and more objects become “smart,” or able to sense their environments, connect to the Internet, and even receive commands remotely. Everything from jet engines to refrigerators is being pushed onto wireless networks and joining the “Internet of Things.”

Modern 3G and 4G cellular networks simply aren’t fast enough to transmit data from devices to the cloud at the pace it is generated, and as every mundane object at home and at work gets in on this game, it’s only going to get worse.

Luckily there’s an obvious solution: Stop focusing on the cloud, and start figuring out how to store and process the torrent of data being generated by the Internet of Things (also known as the industrial Internet) on the things themselves, or on devices that sit between our things and the Internet.

And so all of the data, and all of the computing power, is starting to move away from the cloud and is moving out toward the edge devices.

Or at least until the pendulum swings back the other way.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97 other followers