Orlando P.D. conducting field trials of real-time facial recognition software designed by Amazon.

It would appear that back in 2016 Amazon began offering a software API through its Amazon Web Services division which promised to detect faces and other objects in real time. Soon after it began pitching this product to law enforcement, and found an early adapter in the Orlando Florida police department. Fast forward to today when this tech is being put into field trials.

To clarify exactly what this technology does (or promises to do) understand that police have used facial recognition for a long time. But that usage only pertained to still photo’s and recorded video. A process that is done after the fact, and by a human. This technology which Amazon is calling “Rekognition”, apparently does the process in real time to every face it sees. Essentially turning any live camera feed the police have access to into a checkpoint.

This, as you can imagine, is spawning a heated debate over surveillance technology and how it is implemented. I’m guessing you can already figure out my viewpoint on this. But I can scream all I want about it, it is still coming. Technology will push forward regardless of how much you like it or not. Our only hope is passing along the kind of social empathy that is required to understand why constantly tracking your neighbors every move is probably a little bit sociopathic.

The police clearly don’t get it. They see the greater power as making their job easier and safer, for them. And believe me, if there was a guarantee that this power would not be abused I would be a full supporter. But the pragmatist in me knows that the only question is when it will be abused not if. China is certainly going to implement this or a copy of it wherever they can if they haven’t already. The Florida State government is not surprisingly comfortable with implementing this without any oversight. Trust me there will be others.

So what are these dangers? Well for one ask yourself who is responsible for deciding who a suspect is or is not. Imagine for a second you find yourself protesting the annulment of the Bill of Rights or some other dismantling of the Constitution. I know it’s an extreme example and that is kind of the point, extreme cases sometimes happen. If it did though, you could hypothetically find yourself in on a list of dissidents to be arrested immediately, being identified by facial recognition not only at the protest but again around the corner from your house. You are picked up by a squad car moments later. You would then find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a patriot and a POW in your own country. Again not every police force and country will do this but some will and the chances of the USA doing it are non-zero.

There could and probably will also be corporate abuses and even abuses from criminal organizations, and the corporations A. already have this technology because they are the ones developing it. And B. don’t have nearly as much stigma using it as another organization may have. Having tailor-made advertisements follow you everywhere is certainly coming but more concerning are all the applications of this we can’t think of.

So yes this is a concerning handout to anyone who wants to lord over people who would rather not be controlled. But stopping it would be like trying to stop the wind. Realistically what we need are new ideas of how to live and be free in the new reality.

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