Apple announced Face ID during the unveiling of the iPhone X in September 2017. The feature was presented as the successor to Touch ID, Apple’s previous fingerprint-based authentication technology. With a simple glance, Face ID securely unlocks your iPhone X. Also with Face ID, you can make purchases from Apple and make payments with Apple Pay. Apple opened up the interface to Face ID and now many apps take advantage of the feature.
The technology behind Face ID is quite impressive. The camera captures and analyzes more than 30,000 invisible dots projected onto your face plus an infrared image of your face. The data is compared to the data from when you enrolled yourself on the iPhone. Face ID works in the dark and can adapt to shaving a beard, and wearing a hat, scarf, or sunglasses. While the odds of someone stealing your iPhone and having a fingerprint just like yours is 1 in 50,000, with Face ID, the odds of a thief having a face the same as yours is 1 in a million.
Face recognition is here to stay. What Apple has done to recognize your face is benign. The data about your face is stored on your iPhone in a special area inside the phone called the Secure Enclave. The data is not stored in iCloud. If you get a new phone, you have to scan your face again. Delta Airlines has announced they will be using face recognition to help you check in faster. The TSA has laid out plans to use facial recognition for domestic flights. Banks and hotels are planning to use face recognition. And then there is Government. Face recognition will be ubiquitous. Where will Marriott store data about our faces? In their cloud? Will they use the same protocols to protect that data as was used to protect Starwood’s data which was breached for 500 million guests?
And, how will government use face recognition? Cameras on every street corner will not just show someone in a monitoring center video of who is walking by. They will know WHO is walking by. Will we be tracked? Or will just certain people be tracked? The policy questions abound. The need for regulation here is obvious. Will it be left up to our tech savvy Congress?
The issues surrounding face recognition are going to be much broader and deeper than what I have outlined so far. A team of researchers funded by the German Research Foundation has published a paper called, “Face2Face: Real-Time Face Capture and Reenactment of RGB Videos“. What they have done is mind boggling. They call it facial reenactment in real-time. Five examples appear in the images below. I made a few highlights to help you see what is going on. Look at the person with the red box around his face. He is the “target”. The person whose face is outlined in green is one of the researchers, he is the “source”. While the video of the target is playing, video of the source is captures and used to “reenact” the video of the target. Notice in the original video the target had his mouth closed. But, using the research technology, the video was modified from video of the source and, voilà, the target has his mouth opened.
The German research is incredibly profound. The researchers said, “Our approach is a game changer.” The technology will enable editing of videos in real time on a home PC by non-experts. In 1994, the cover of Scientific American showed a picture of Marilyn Monroe with Abraham Lincoln. It demonstrated what was possible with computer graphics, and it was stunning at the time. The technology demonstrated by the German researchers could be called face manipulation. It can bring “Fake News” to a whole new level. The researchers said, “We hope that the numerous demonstrations of our reenactment systems will teach people to think more critical about the video content they consume every day, especially if there is no proof of origin.” And where will we get the proof of origin? From Facebook?