It's mildly irritating when Facebook tries to nudge me into tagging a photo of my wife's sister as my wife or my son as myself, but there are much more ominous possibilities in the world of facial recognition software.
According to the Washington Post, an Israeli start-up company called Faception claims to be able to take one look at a person's face, compare it to a database and deduce a whole slew of character traits, including whether the person is a potential terrorist.
Yes, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was all "old school" when he observed "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look"; but artificial intelligence is bringing snap judgments into the 21st century.
With 80 percent accuracy, Faception's technology can purportedly identify everything from great poker players to extroverts, pedophiles, geniuses, white collar criminals, wimps who won't sue Faception if they get beat up after being misidentified as one of the aforementioned groups, etc.
The main focus of Faception is on homeland security issues; but even there, effectiveness may be short-lived. The terrorists may figure ways around it. I understand ISIS is flooding the market with photos of jihadists on jowl-flapping roller coaster rides and urging its scientists to finalize new real life applications for advanced Wooly Willy technology.
Keenly aware of ethics concerns, a Faception spokesman assures us that the 15 different classifiers used by the company to produce its profiles will never be made available to the general public. I have my doubts. ("The secrets are guarded by a trusted employee — who, um, meets 14 of the 15 classifiers for being a member of WikiLeaks! Darn! Darn! Darn! Pay no attention to that massive data dump on the internet.")
Imagine the societal upheaval if such information does go public, gets exploited by unregulated copycats and tempts individuals and institutions to abuse it.
Suddenly everyone will be muttering "Maybe you CAN judge a book by its cover," "Better safe than sorry" and "Guilty until proven innocent."
Romantic invitations will be rejected, job offers will be rescinded and adoptions will never take place. Even something as simple as a payday loan will be affected. ("Why do you REALLY need this loan? According to analysis of the surveillance camera photos, you probably need to establish a new identity after you mass murder my helpless family. Take your business somewhere else, sir! But please take a complimentary calendar, and a nail file for your 80 percent likelihood of having brittle nails.")
Remember the 1980s Pantene "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" ad? Soon it could be "Don't hate me because my symmetrical follicles indicate bouts of melancholy."
The medical profession will never be the same, thanks to exchanges like the following:
"The facial swelling from your allergic reaction to bee stings may never fully subside."
"I want a second opinion, doc."
"Okay, and you'll probably win the backgammon tournament while humming a creditable version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'."
I'm all for preventing another 9-11, but there's still something easily skewed and downright creepy about the services offered by Faception.
I'm not sure I even want to live in a world where the inspirational words of Martin Luther King, Jr. have devolved into "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by whether their ears hang low and wobble to and fro."
Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades". Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.