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You are here: Home / Science & Discovery / The Science Behind Google Arts App
The Scary Science Behind Google's Museum Doppelganger App
The Scary Science Behind Google's Museum Doppelganger App
By Arwa Mahdawi Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
Worried you're no oil painting? Well, there's an app for that! The internet is obsessed with a new feature in the Google Arts & Culture app that finds your museum doppelganger.

You take a selfie, then Google trawls a database of art to find the museum portrait you most resemble. It is an irresistible proposition for everyone's inner narcissist; I downloaded the app immediately. Unfortunately, my inner narcissist was in for a nasty shock. Apparently, my face closely resembles an engraving of Leopold I, a man with a massive mustache, and a portrait of Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, a man with a rather genteel goatee. OK, Google, I take the hint. I've made an appointment to get threaded!

Now, if you're rushing to download the app to see which hirsute Habsburg you look like, please note that this feature is currently only available in the US. But perhaps its limited reach is no bad thing. The app may be good fun, but it is also fundamentally frightening: Google's latest experiment, you see, says less about art than it does the burgeoning science of facial recognition technology.

While Google's museum doppelgangers aren't exactly 100% accurate, facial recognition technology has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years and is fast becoming a pervasive part of our lives. Apple's iPhone X, for example, includes Face ID technology, which lets you use your "face-print" to unlock your phone. And, last month, Facebook rolled out facial recognition tools that alert you if you appear in someone else's photo, even if they haven't tagged you.

China leads the world when it comes to the application of facial recognition technology. There are 170m CCTV cameras in the country -- a number expected to grow to 400m by 2020. Many of these cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, meaning Big Brother isn't just watching you, it's analyzing your data in real time with very real consequences.

Some Chinese cities, for example, are using the tech to name and shame jaywalkers. If you try to cross the road on a red light, your photograph will be displayed on a big screen by the street before being sent to the police. In the near future, a little casual jaywalking may trample over your prospects. China is putting together a social credit score, which is basically an Uber rating for every citizen. It would pull together a whole suite of information -- whether you pay your bills on time, who your friends are, if you jaywalk frequently -- and amalgamate them into a number that reflects your trustworthiness. Honestly, Black Mirror has nothing on real life.

The Chinese surveillance state may be particularly advanced, but the rest of the world isn't far behind. In the UK, the Metropolitan police has more than 20m facial images on their databases and, controversially, are using facial recognition software to try to identify potential troublemakers in public places, such as the Notting Hill carnival.

And, in the US, about half of adult Americans are now "part of a virtual, perpetual lineup," according to a 2016 report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology. Their photographs are stored in a database that can be cross-referenced by the FBI when looking for a suspect in a criminal investigation. According to a House oversight committee hearing last year, facial recognition software is far from accurate and misidentifies women and African Americans more frequently than white men. It seems the future really is like Minority Report -- and facial recognition tech is particularly fond of reporting on minorities.

© 2018 Guardian under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

Image credit: iStock.

Tell Us What You Think


Posted: 2018-01-23 @ 5:24pm PT
Technically, the tech would be more "fond of reporting on" white men if it frequently misidentifies minorities, and not Caucasians, no?

Also, the "technology experts" are just scared that the general population isn't scared anymore, so they're trying to drum up controversy in order to keep their jobs relevant.
In a world of social media, nobody is afraid to have their faces online. They post their pictures themselves in record numbers every day. We all know FB keeps them, we all know Google tracks our search databases. There's nothing new here. It's all technology we're already used to and inviting into our homes.
Unfortunately, there'll always be the fear-mongers, the "experts" desperate to stay relevant and the tinfoil-hat wearing paranoids who freak out over everything.

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