It may yet prove to be a sign of things to come.
Socially acceptable and fun activities are paving the way for a sinister move by companies into the world of facial recognition and biometrics, which may yet become the norm in more widespread activities such as access control and security in general.
The Xbox 360’s Kinect, the peripheral used in Microsoft’s gaming console, uses facial recognition and infrared sensors, as the log in process for players engaging in its games, greeting returning gamers by name after recognising their faces when they step in front of the video console.
The technology used includes a visible light camera, an infrared-based depth sensor, and microwaves, as it tracks movements of those playing the game, translating their real-life motions onto on-screen movements.
The games are hugely popular with families.
Earlier this month, Kinect Sports won a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Award) for the best family game, but its appeal is far wider than just sports fanatics with three other games, Dance Central, Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals also being nominated in the family category.
Kinect is also the world’s fastest selling consumer electronic device, breaking the Guinness World Records after consumers snapped up 10 million devices in the first two months of going on sale in November 2010.
But Kinect is not just a game play device. With its camera and infrared sensor, which maps players’ bodies and faces using facial recognition technology, it has branched into the world of biometrics, allowing gamers to sign in without using an ID and password, but automatically, by being able to differentiate their facial features from other game players.
However, its accuracy was brought into question within days of the device going on sale. US Watchdog Consumer Reports, which tested the Kinect soon after its release said lighting was seen to affect the gaming device’s facial recognition system from working properly when Gaming review site Gamespot complained that two of its dark skinned employees had problems logging in to the game.
Despite log in problems, however, Microsoft’s move into biometric identification is both novel and sinister. Anonymity has long been a key feature of video gaming with gamers happy to engage in combat as long as their identity was fake. But observers claim that people aren’t likely to rebel against the technology, as long as the stakes remain low.
Computer gaming, for instance, is not a high stake activity like banking, for instance. But what happens when gaming starts converging with other things like social networking, which could well lead it to filter into financial areas, such as shopping and banking?
Observers have noted that introducing the technology in such a low stakes environment such as gaming, where the younger generation, in particular, are repeatedly exposed to the technology, may de-sensitize them to later uses.
And face recognition technology is finding its way into a number of other ‘acceptable’ social uses.
In the US, a face-matching dating website is using the technology to help people find their partners.
FindYourFaceMate.com’s Christina Bloom said who we date depends a lot on how much they look like us.
Bloom claims that couples often have very similar facial features and that facial similarities seem to help with the initial attraction.
The face-matching dating website helps people narrow down their prospects by zeroing in on nine features, like your eyes, ears, nose, chin, or mouth, all helping to build an increasingly detailed picture of the person being profiled.
Experts claim that when audiences are able to interact with biometrics at a socially acceptable level, the technology is able to gain traction within other uses, and could pave the way for more widespread use in the home, such as to control home security, access control and even in identification.
Mistrust of the technology has been one reason why biometrics has so far failed to take off in more serious applications such as banking, but more acceptable functions, such as identifying members of the household to control other entertainment systems, and home automation controls for temperature, light and heating, for instance, could take off, simply for their novelty.
Facial recognition apps are also on the rise. Face.com, a global leader in face recognition technology on the web, recently announced an upgrade in its technology which will allow it to process increased numbers of photos in a second.
It’s a technology that is used in Facebook’s Phototagger and PhotoFinder, and is used by the social networking site to authenticate its members when they lose or forget their passwords, by putting up pictures of the member’s friends’ faces and suggesting likely names which the user must name correctly in order to gain access to their web page.
According to the company, Face.com has been found to be effective even in challenging conditions such as lighting, background, picture angle, and even focus of the pictures.
And now Chinese technology companies like Hanvon are making it even easier for companies and home businesses to use face recognition with low cost devices used to monitor staff or admit entry.
Hanvon’s Face ID uses infra red technology to scan a 3D image of a person’s face. These images are stored on the device’s internal chip, so it doesn’t have to be connected to an external server.
It can recognise up to 1400 faces and costs around US $720. Hanvon is now selling the device in 55 countries.