Facial Recognition, Wearable Computers and Privacy

I read a very interesting article over at Ars Technica titled “Stop the Cyborgs” launches public campaign against Google Glass“.  Basically, there are people who are against the idea of computers that we wear as glasses that actively search out and offer up unrequested information about the objects, places and people in our visual field (especially because the people around them don’t have a clue about that information, or any video recording).  At first I thought this was silly, backwardness.  But reading on, the point is brought up that with facial recognition software and social networks, basically, a person could look around themselves and have as intimate knowledge about total strangers as a villager may have about the other local residents and their family histories.

Think about it.

People you don’t know (or those you do) could have spoon-fed information concerning you and your family history.  Perhaps they would know things about you that even you don’t know (unless you look at yourself in the mirror with the device…), all without expending any effort at all.  Or deserving it.

There is an expectation of privacy in public, at least to a certain degree.

But I have another insight.  Your face, it already tells me all that.  And more than Google Glass is ever going to know, to boot.  Our faces fit snug over the subtleties of our psychological makeup (ontogeny and phylogeny).  And our social brains are capable of parsing this map into accurate meaningfulness to us.  In fact, our bodies tell our story, through and through.  And I’m not just speaking theoretically.

What privacy that exists exists because of a polite thing people do in public.  We don’t stare.

Of course, we want to.  That’s why some of us wear sunglasses.

I don’t know that the issues that wearable computers raise are all that new, but I do think that wearable computers will bring these issues to a head.

Will we all start wearing “veils”?  Seems like some of us wish we had been all along.  “Veils” with tinted Google Glasses peering through.  Maybe our clothes would project our pseudonymous username avatars into physical public spaces.  We could be our usernames…

On the other end of the extreme, perhaps a culture of openness is on the horizon.  Maybe a great flush of catharsis and then we can all live with our pasts that we can’t change (and move on with our lessons learned).  I’m sure we’re each of us descended from some one pillager or another.  How far back?  Does it matter?  Who am I?  Should I care that others can access a public database that’s growing with every public interaction?

Who knows, perhaps it would be good for us, as a whole.  And anyway, there’d still be our Electromagnetically Shielded SanctuariES (Esse’s), included with every new home (government surveillance excepted, of course [the laws must be enforced]).

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