Facial recognition is already making phones, gaming hardware, and software applications more convenient to access and use. Being able to simply look at a phone to unlock it instead of entering a password seems like a benign convenience, but Microsoft’s president is warning that the technology could develop into something catastrophic to humanity on a large scale.
Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith spoke with an increasingly cautionary tone after being asked about the sale of facial recognition software at Web Summit in Portugal. Smith began his answer by acknowledging some of the harmless benefits of facial recognition technology consumers are seeing today, specifically its ability to unlock phones and potentially locate missing people. Smith’s language then takes a sharp turn.
“But, there’s a big but. Because it can really change the world in which we live,” he warns, before giving an example of a future where retailers use the technology to meticulously track shoppers’ data to better understand when they visit and what they buy. While this is certainly an unpleasant thought, Smith goes on to describe a potentially dystopian future where the pillars of democracy are in peril.
“For the first time, the world is on the threshold of technology that would give the government the ability to follow anyone, anywhere and everyone, everywhere. It could know exactly where you are going, where you have been, and where you were yesterday.”
Smith later makes a chilling reference to a classic science fiction novel, painting an even grimmer picture.
“Before we wake up and find that the year 2024 looks like the book 1984, let’s figure out what kind of world we want to create, and what are the safeguards, and what are the limitations on both companies and government for the use of this technology.” Smith’s dire warning is followed by a shy applause break, to which he responds with nervous chuckling.
Xbox One owners are likely familiar with the Kinect peripheral’s facial recognition capabilities, however, Microsoft is far from the only company taking advantage of the burgeoning technology. Facebook, Apple, and Amazon each use facial recognition software in a variety of situations. Considering Amazon is already selling the technology to law enforcement agencies, it seems Smith’s warning of its possibly malevolent trajectory may not be unfounded.
On a lighter note, Microsoft fans can expect a gaming-centric, hopefully paranoia-free, good time at the X018 event, which starts this weekend in Mexico City. Those looking for the latest news on recent Xbox One games can tune in from their homes for a live broadcast of the event.