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

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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