New iPhone brings face recognition (and fears) to the masses

Various models of iPhone are displayed during a preview event at an Apple Michigan Avenue store, in this Oct. 19, 2017 photo, in downtown Chicago. (AP)
Updated 29 October 2017
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New iPhone brings face recognition (and fears) to the masses

WASHINGTON: Apple will let you unlock the iPhone X with your face — a move likely to bring facial recognition to the masses, along with concerns over how the technology may be used for nefarious purposes.
Apple’s newest device, set to go on sale November 3, is designed to be unlocked with a facial scan with a number of privacy safeguards — as the data will only be stored on the phone and not in any databases.
Unlocking one’s phone with a face scan may offer added convenience and security for iPhone users, according to Apple, which claims its “neural engine” for FaceID cannot be tricked by a photo or hacker.
While other devices have offered facial recognition, Apple is the first to pack the technology allowing for a three-dimensional scan into a hand-held phone.
But despite Apple’s safeguards, privacy activists fear the widespread use of facial recognition would “normalize” the technology and open the door to broader use by law enforcement, marketers or others of a largely unregulated tool.
“Apple has done a number of things well for privacy but it’s not always going to be about the iPhone X,” said Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“There are real reasons to worry that facial recognition will work its way into our culture and become a surveillance technology that is abused.”
A study last year by Georgetown University researchers found nearly half of all Americans in a law enforcement database that includes facial recognition, without their consent.
Civil liberties groups have sued over the FBI’s use of its “next generation” biometric database, which includes facial profiles, claiming it has a high error rate and the potential for tracking innocent people.
“We don’t want police officers having a watch list embedded in their body cameras scanning faces on the sidewalk,” said Stanley.
Clare Garvie — the Georgetown University Law School associate who led the 2016 study on facial recognition databases — agreed that Apple is taking a responsible approach but others might not.
“My concern is that the public is going to become inured or complacent about this,” Garvie said.

Widespread use of facial recognition “could make our lives more trackable by advertisers, by law enforcement and maybe someday by private individuals,” she said.
Garvie said her research found significant errors in law enforcement facial recognition databases, opening up the possibility someone could be wrongly identified as a criminal suspect.
Another worry, she said, is that police could track individuals who have committed no crime simply for participating in demonstrations.
Shanghai and other Chinese cities have recently started deploying facial recognition to catch those who flout the rules of the road, including jaywalkers.
Facial recognition and related technologies can also be used by retail stores to identify potential shoplifters, and by casinos to pinpoint undesirable gamblers.
It can even be used to deliver personalized marketing messages — and could have some other potentially unnerving applications.
Last year, a Russian photographer figured out how to match the faces of porn stars with their social media profiles to “doxx” them, or reveal their true identities.
This type of use “can create huge problems,” said Garvie. “We have to consider the worst possible uses of the technology.”
Apple’s system uses 30,000 infrared dots to create a digital image which is stored in a “secure enclave,” according to a white paper issued by the company on its security. It said the chances of a “random” person being able to unlock the device are one in a million, compared with one in 50,000 for its TouchID.

Apple’s FaceID is likely to touch off fresh legal battles about whether police can require someone to unlock a device.
FaceID “brings the company deeper into a legal debate” that stemmed from the introduction of fingerprint identification on smartphones, according to ACLU staff attorney Brett Max Kaufman.
Kaufman says in a blog post that courts will be grappling with the constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and self-incrimination if a suspect is forced to unlock a device.
US courts have generally ruled that it would violate a user’s rights to give up a passcode because it is “testimonial” — but that situation becomes murkier when biometrics are applied.
Apple appears to have anticipated this situation by allowing a user to press two buttons for two seconds to require a passcode, but Garvie said court battles over compelling the use of FaceID are likely.
Regardless of these concerns, Apple’s introduction is likely to bring about widespread use of facial recognition technology.
“What Apple is doing here will popularize and get people more comfortable with the technology,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, who follows the sector.
“If I look at Apple’s track record of making things easy for consumers, I’m optimistic users are going to like this.”
Garvie added it is important to have conversations about facial recognition because there is little regulation governing the use of the technology.
“The technology may well be inevitable,” she said.
“It is going to become part of everyone’s lives if it isn’t already.”


Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

Updated 18 October 2018
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Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

  • CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot
  • The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away

TOKYO: Forget the flashy humanoids with their gymnastics skills: at the World Robot Summit in Tokyo, the focus was on down-to-earth robots that can deliver post, do the shopping and build a house.
Introducing CarriRo, a delivery robot shaped a bit like a toy London bus with bright, friendly “eyes” on its front that can zip around the streets delivering packages at 6km/h (4 miles per hour).
CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot.
The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away.
Services like this are especially needed in aging Japan. With nearly 28 percent of the population over 65, mobility is increasingly limited and the country is struggling for working-age employees.
Toyota’s HSR (Human Support Robot) may not be an oil painting to look at — standing a meter tall, it looks like a bin with arms — but it can provide vital help for the aged or handicapped at home.
Capable of handling and manoeuvring a variety of objects, it also provides a key interface with the outside world via its Internet-connected screen for a head.
Japan’s manpower shortage is felt especially keenly in the retail and construction sectors and firms at the summit were keen to demonstrate their latest solutions.
Omron showcased a robot that can be programmed to glide around a supermarket and place various items into a basket. Possibly useful for a lazy — or infirm — shopper but more likely to be put to use in a logistics warehouse.
Japan also has difficulty finding staff to stack shelves at its 55,000 convenience stores open 24/7 and here too, robots can fill the gap.
With buildings going up at breakneck pace as Tokyo prepares to welcome the world for the 2020 Olympics, there are construction sites all over the city but not always enough people to work them.
Enter HRP-5P. The snappily named, humanoid-shaped machine certainly has the look of a brawny builder, at 182cm tall and weighing in at 101 kilogrammes.
And HRP-5P is designed to carry out the same construction tasks that humans currently perform — even when left to its own devices.
HRP-5P “can use the same tools as a man, which is why we gave it the shape of a human — two legs, two arms and a head,” explained one of its creators, Kenji Kaneko from the National Advanced Industrial Science and Technology research facility.
Manufacturers were also promoting the latest in talking robots, which are becoming increasingly “intelligent” in their responses.
Sharp’s Robohon, a cute-as-pie humanoid robot standing only 20 centimeters tall, has been employed since last month to recount to tourists the history of the ancient Imperial capital of Kyoto — in English, Japanese or Chinese.
And very popular among Japanese visitors to the World Robot Summit was a robot replica of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, one of the country’s top TV stars.
Created in collaboration with Japanese robotics master Hiroshi Ishiguro, the robot replicates the 85-year-old’s facial expressions almost perfectly but conversation with the machine hardly flows.
“The difficulty is being able to create fluid conversations with different people,” said Junji Tomita, engineer at telecoms giant NTT which is also involved in the project.
“The number of possible responses to an open question is so vast that it is very complicated,” admitted Tomita.