May 24, 2017 I Brett Tingley

New Emotion-Sensing Tech Spots Criminals Before They Act

As the ubiquity of surveillance cameras increases in cities worldwide, it’s going to get a lot harder to remain anonymous in public. Science fiction has predicted this eventuality for some time and already, police agencies around the globe are using facial recognition software to automatically identify individuals in crowds. In a worrying and surely dystopian turn, a Russian tech firm has recently developed software it claims can spot criminals before they act. Sound familiar? Visionary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick saw it coming in 1956.

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Fewer and fewer public places remain free from the ever-watchful eyes of security cameras.

The software was developed by Alexander Kabakov, chief developer at NTechLab. NTechLab has sold its next generation facial recognition software known as FindFace Pro to governments and private corporations around the world for uses ranging from security operations to personalized retail advertising. This latest software uses emotion-detecting algorithms to identify when individuals might be stressed, nervous, or anxious ahead of committing a crime.

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Does that mean certain emotions might soon become criminalized?

What about good ol’ social anxiety, though? Can the software separate normal everyday anxiety from impending crime nervousness? From the sound of it, there could be a lot of mistaken intent. The software’s developer Kabakov nevertheless stands by his product, citing the age-old “don’t hate the player, hate the game” defense:

If the street didn't have cameras I could understand people might have some concerns, but now on every street you have cameras. If you're in a public space, you have no privacy. Now, with smartphones, we don't have privacy because phones know so much about you, including your behaviour and location. The recognition gives a new level of security in the street because in a couple of seconds you can identify terrorists or criminals or killers.

Sure, the technology might lead to the arrests of many wanted criminals, but at what cost? For now it’s only law enforcement using facial recognition, but advertisers want in on the tech and I’m sure debt collection agencies would love a piece of that action, too. There's no telling what applications might spring up in the mind of cash-hungry tech entrepreneurs. If the trend continues, we might soon have to get one of those funky haircuts or start wearing those weird glasses to help us keep our identities private when in public. At least then I'll have a reason to look funny.

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As early as the 1970s, French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote about the concept of panopticism - social control through ubiquitous surveillance. Sometimes we can't stop the future no matter how many warnings we're given.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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