The world’s first invisibility cloak is a plain old T-shirt14 min readReading Time: 8 minutes
Have you ever walked around on the streets or entered a public space or someone’s home and seen a camera staring right at you?
Yup, something that looks a lot like what you see above- A surveillance camera.
Chances are, your answer is an immediate yes. And what do you think about these cameras? Do they make you feel anything? Safer, perhaps? Or maybe since you’ve probably seen them everywhere from an extremely young age, you don’t even pay attention to them. Well, as it turns out, there’s more than meets the eye (or lens?). Not only are surveillance cameras constantly evolving to become more and more high-tech, but they are also becoming increasingly controversial. What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, let’s find out.
Unjumble this image to find out why we’re talking about this now.
Completely random and inconsequential opinion poll
Okay, so before we move on, here’s something that is dividing the internet. Is this T-shirt ugly? It doesn’t matter at all. But you might as well weigh in.
What is the T-shirt blocking again?
Now that you’ve come to the crucial decision of whether or not this T-shirt is ugly — let’s get back to business. Although we’ve focused on the cameras that adorn our streets and homes, the T-shirt is less concerned with the camera and more concerned with what happens after the camera captures an image or video of you. This colourful T-shirt has been designed to block the powerful facial recognition software that goes through the camera’s captured visuals and — well — recognises you.
Here’s the news again, in case you missed it in the puzzle box.
So, what is facial recognition, and how does it work?
To understand facial recognition, let’s step into the shoes of someone who is being recognised and see what exactly happens.
Let us imagine that you are a person who just shoplifted and got away with it. The authorities in the shop have realised what has happened and have shared an image of you that was captured by their security camera or CCTV with the police. The police quickly get into action. They feed your picture into their system, and their software scans all of their CCTV cameras for your face. Voila! There’s a match.
The police quickly scan your face against all the criminal records and photo IDs they have in their system. Soon, the police find out your identity and are able to track your phone. They locate the GPS coordinates of your phone and track you down to a street five kilometres from the scene of the crime. The cops arrive as soon as they can, arrest you, and return all of the items that you stole to the store.
Sounds great. Does it not? Not for you, the shoplifter, of course. But for a peaceful, safe, and happy society, what could be better than this?
Now, let us imagine a second situation. You aren’t a robber but are a person who just visited an ATM. Someone sees you walk out and manages to get a glimpse at how much money you have. They decide that they would like to rob you. So, they click a photo of you and run it through facial recognition software.
The software recognises you and matches you to all the other photos it has. After sifting through billions of publically available social media posts, photos, news articles and government data, they figure out your address, your school, and even who your friends are. Through your posts on social media, they even manage to get a glimpse of your route back from work.
Now, they have all the tools to blackmail you, find the perfect spot to rob you, and even stalk you. After all, cameras will always have blind spots, so they can wait until you’re in one and swoop in to steal from you.
Companies like Google, Amazon, and IBM have blocked their facial recognition research since they feel that the technology poses far too many risks to society.
Is it true that anyone can find out anything about you using just one picture?
Well, not anyone. But several companies, extremely rich people, governments and people with the right connections could get access to all of your data on the internet with just one blurry picture or video clip.
This is all thanks to sites such as Clearview. AI that have created an algorithm to match your face to almost any searchable information on the internet. Rumour has it that they have over 100 billion photos of people that they allow companies, governments, and individuals to use to track people.
In Russia, just about anyone has access to such facial recognition tools. Their equivalent of Google, Yandex, allows you to run their facial recognition software on any photo that you possess.
Does sharing your personal data scare you, or do you feel that you have nothing to hide so why worry?
So, should we ban facial recognition?
That’s a sticky subject. On the one hand, people could say that’s ridiculous. Facial recognition could help find missing people, solve and even prevent crimes, and make our everyday lives far more orderly. On the other hand, this software has the ability to take away our fundamental right to privacy.
The software takes bits of data about you, packages them into enough information to reveal your identity and creates a picture of you. Then, it allows someone else to use that information, all without you giving them any permission to do so. Following that, they can do what they want with that information and, in fact, even gain access into your life. So, it’s safe to say that facial recognition technology is taking away our right to privacy. Most experts think that even though we could ban the technology now, eventually, it’ll make its way into our society. The real challenge and need of the hour is making laws that prevent the misuse of the technology and make it so hard to access that it is only used when absolutely necessary.
India is working on a new law to protect our online data. If this law passes, Indians will have some protection against the willy nilly use of facial recognition.
Why is privacy so important to us? Why do we like to have private chats, or even curtains in our homes?
Is privacy only important to people who are doing wrong?
Let’s get technical
So, how does this technology even work, and how does a simple T-shirt mess with it? Let’s get our hands dirty and check out the mechanics of this whole thing. Warning: It’s all pretty cool.
The algorithm is taught.
Scientists show the algorithm millions of photos. They teach it to identify points on the face like the corners of the eyes, the position of the nose, the position of shadows etc., and match it to other photos. All these points are then measured in relation to each other. That’s when the software creates something like this: A neural network.
A facial signature is created
This neural network is put into a unique mathematical equation that becomes your facial signature. This signature is stored in a database.
A CCTV camera captures your face
A CCTV camera captures you walking down the street. It takes your photo and straightens it. Then it analyses the data points on your face and creates a neural network around your face. Once the neural network is created, it is put into an equation. Your face’s digital signature is now available.
Matching your facial signature
The algorithm runs through its memory and finds a perfect match. Work’s done! You’ve been identified!
No neural network
The algorith tries to create a neural network, but the dots and colours on the T-shirt start confusing it. A neural network can’t be formed, and the algorithm fails to generate your facial signature. You remain anonymous!
Although this T-shirt is a pretty awesome invisibility cloak, it’s only being used to train the AI to overcome it’s flaws. So eventually, this ugly or not-so-ugly T-shirt will make us all the more visible!
Facial Recognition in the war in Ukraine
Clearview AI, the website with hundreds of billions of images, has donated its service to Ukraine for free!! The Ukrainian army is using Clearview AI’s facial recognition software to identify Russian soldiers who have died in battle and inform their families back home of what has happened.
Ukraine is doing this not to be cruel but to help Russians realise that their country is actually engaged in a terrible war. That’s right! Russia’s government has blocked all foreign news and spread so much fake news that many Russians are actually not aware that their soldiers are being sent to fight a senseless war in Ukraine.
But that’s not all facial recognition is being used for. It is also being used by Ukraine to identify Russian spies who are hiding amongst the Ukrainian people and sending information to Russia. This information can then be used to help Vladimir Putin win the war. In Russia, their local facial recognition software is being used to catch people who have tried to speak up about the war. Reports have shown that Russians have been randomly picked up on the street and taken to prison after being recognised as protestors by traffic cameras.