How designers are fighting the rise of facial recognition technology

From LED-equipped visors to transparent masks, these inventions aim to thwart facial recognition cameras.

How designers are fighting the rise of facial recognition technology
Jip van Leeuwenstein/HKU Design
  • To combat the rise of facial-recognition technology, designers have created clothing and accessories that helps to conceal people's identities from A.I.
  • Although some of these inventions appear to be effective, their main point seems to be to raise awareness about facial-recognition technology.
  • In the U.S., surveys suggests that most Americans would oppose strictly limiting the government's ability to use facial-recognition technology.


Concerned about the rise of facial-recognition technology, some designers are creating fashion for a somewhat counterintuitive purpose: not to get noticed, at least by the cameras.

In the Netherlands, Jip van Leeuwenstein designed a transparent "surveillance exclusion" mask that obfuscates a wearer's face to facial-recognition cameras but not other people.

Image source: Jip van Leeuwenstein / HKU Design

"By wearing this mask formed like a lens it possible to become unrecognizable for facial recognition software and because of it's transparence you will not lose your identity and facial expressions," von Leeuwenstein writes. "So it's still possible to interact with the people around you."

In Japan, Isao Echizen, a professor at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, designed a "privacy visor" fitted with near-infrared LED lights. When worn, the facial-recognition software can't tell there's a human face behind the lights, according to Echizen's tests.

In Japan, Isao Echizen, a professor at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, designed a "privacy visor" fitted with near-infrared LED lights. When worn, the facial-recognition software can't tell there's a human face behind the lights, according to Echizen's tests.

National Institute of Informatics/Isao Echizen

In the U.K., artists in "The Dazzle Club" have walked the streets London with their faces painted in blue, red and black stripes in an effort obfuscate their faces from the city's 420,000 CCTV cameras, only some of which are using facial-recognition technology.

"There has always been something subversive about streetwear, and one of the new areas of subversion is definitely surveillance and, in particular, facial recognition," Henry Navarro Delgado, an art and fashion professor at Canada's Ryerson University, told Reuters.

In September, a British court ruled that government use of facial-recognition technology doesn't violate privacy and human rights.

Image source: Coreana Museum of Art / Cha Hyun Seok

Other anti-surveillance apparel includes shiny fabrics that reflect thermal radiation that drones search for, beanie hats that confuse the facial-recognition system ArcFace, and Hyperface, which makes clothing with patterns that confuse A.I. into focusing on the fabric rather than your face.

"The main significance is creating awareness," Delgado told Slate. "That's why fashion is so effective: You have something to say, you wear it, people see you, it's immediate. Part of the purpose is to make people who normally don't think about this aware that these technologies are out there, and we're being watched."

Facial recognition in the U.S.

Surveillance cameras are common on city streets in the U.S. city, but most cameras aren't equipped with facial-recognition technology, as millions are in China and, to a lesser extent, the U.K. In May, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial technology on city property, not including airports.

"Good policing does not mean living in a police state," said city councillor Aaron Peskin. "Living in a safe and secure community does not mean living in a surveillance state."

But such comparisons are silly, according to Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

"In reality, San Francisco is more at risk of becoming Cuba than China — a ban on facial recognition will make it frozen in time with outdated technology," he said, adding that governments "can use facial recognition to efficiently and effectively identify suspects, find missing children or lost seniors, and secure access to government buildings."

The results from a recent datainnovation.org survey suggest that most Americans would agree with Castro.

The surveyors wrote:

"There were some differences in these opinions based on age, with older Americans more likely to oppose government limits on the technology. For example, 52 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds opposed limitations that come at the expense of public safety, compared to 61 percent of respondents ages 55 and older. In addition, women were less likely to support limits than men. For example, only 14 percent of women support strictly limiting facial recognition if it comes at the expense of public safety, versus 23 percent of men."

Image soure: datainnovation

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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