Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flashrobs v Google Image

This is an interesting arms race between two technologies.  I often blog about the freedoms that I wish we didn’t give up after 9/11, as embodied in the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, et al.

But here is one perhaps where I lean in the other direction.  I am sure you all are familiar with flashmobs.  In advance, a bunch of people prearrange (often on some social network or another) to meet in the middle of a public place and do something in synch.  On TV, they show dancing flashmobs, but really it can be anything. 

So in comes the idea of a flashrob.  This is where the group prearranges to all be in a store at a prearranged time and on a signal they all grab something and walk out the door (without paying).  If you have 40 people all shoplifting at the same time, there is not much the store can do.  Even if they have a security guard, he can grab maybe one or two people.  And to prevent any violence, injury, or lawsuits, the salespeople are instructed not to interfere. 

So in comes technology to the rescue.  A security guard may be able to grab one or two and perhaps recognize the faces of one or two more, but a couple of well placed video cameras can catch all their faces.  Then you run it through an Internet-based facial recognition to find a photo of them somewhere online.  Up pops a photo of them on Flickr or Facebook and they are busted.  Google has developed the facial recognition app already.  You put the security photo in the search box and the Google Image Search looks for close matches based on an algorithm that works the same way as the ones you see on CSI. 

In this case, I am rooting for the tech to win.