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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Given the sorry state of computer security these days (see: Equifax), we all know something’s gotta’ give.  And Apple, among others, may be on to it.  The firm’s new phone expected shortly, the iPhone X is slated to have the ability to unlock your home screen via its built-in face recognition – a first in the phone wars, and sure to be copied in time by others.  But as always, be careful what you wish for, as we’ll see in today’s post.

Face recognition itself is not new.  It’ used in security cameras around the world.  In China it’s used to verify the identity of ride-hailing drivers and allow tourists to enter attractions.  In the U.K. it’s been used to arrest a suspect outside a soccer (er, football) game.  The ability to “record, store and analyze images of faces cheaply, quickly and on a vast scale promises one day to bring about fundamental changes to notions of privacy, fairness and trust,” according to editors at The Economist in their lead editorial from Sept. 9th.

The reason for such high promise?  Faces work.  Other biometric data like fingerprints and irises require close proximity.  Anyone with a phone can take a picture for facial recognition purposes, which can work for identification at a distance, apparently with high accuracy.  A Russian app compares pictures of strangers with ones in a social network and already boasts a 70% accuracy rate.  Of course, as The Economist points out, this also means that Facebook could compare its database of images, which it keeps private, with those of, say, visitors to a car dealership, and later target auto ads to them.

China’s government is said to keep a permanent record of its citizens’ faces, and the about 50% of the U.S. population is already in the FBI’s photo database.  It’s a powerful new weapon for tracking criminals, as 1984-ish as it sounds given the potential cost to citizens’ privacy.

Faces contain a lot of information, and machines are quickly learning to read that.  Once again, there are upsides and down.  Some firms are using these data to identify rare genetic conditions far earlier than otherwise possible.  Systems that measure emotion might give autistic people a better grasp of otherwise elusive social signals.  On the downside, The Economist points out, are algorithms that do a better job of looking at pictures of gay and straight men, and then correctly identifying their sexuality (80%+ success rate for the software vs. only 60% for people).  This would be terrifying in places where homosexuality is still a crime.

For all the pros and cons, (read more in the Sept. 9th, 2017 issue’s article, “Nowhere to Hide”) the technology is not going back in the bottle.  Cameras will become even more common with the growth of wearable devices.  Sunglasses and make-up are no defense, as systems can out-game them, even reconstructing the facial structures of people in disguise according to researchers at Cambridge.

While Google has explicitly turned its back on facial identification for fear of misuse around the world, other tech firms are less picky.  The Economist notes that Amazon and Microsoft “are both using their cloud servers to offer face recognition.”  Governments will likely not want to pass up the benefits where laws can be constructed to allow them.  Change is coming, and your face along with millions of others, for better and for worse, is likely to be a big part of it.

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Thanks to a variety of new applications, a business can now process a credit card sale without using a dedicated wireless device or clunky terminal – with their associated costs of from hundreds to a couple thousand dollars.  All you need is your cell phone.

An Ohio company in the heating and air conditioning business, Jackson Comfort Systems, uses the technology to take orders in clients’ homes and businesses.  After a job is completed, the technician simply keys the customer’s credit card info into a cell phone app, where the data are automatically encrypted and the payment is processed immediately.  Later, an email or text message can be sent to the customer as confirmation.  The company collects on the spot, there’s no scribbled paperwork to transcribe back at the office, no paperwork to lose, no wrong card numbers or finding later that the cardholder’s request was declined.

Clean, simple, quick and efficient.  The company uses Intuit’s GoPayment app, according to a recent article in the May, 2010 issue of Inc. Magazine.

Other solutions include Swipe It, PAYware Mobile, and Square, an app and card-reader from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey that works on iPhones and Androids.  Square is in beta testing now, but unlike the others, it will be free.  Users simply pay a flat swipe fee.  (The other solutions have start-up costs around $50-150, plus monthly fees and minor transactions fees, pretty much like what small businesses pay to provide credit card processing to your clients today.)

Because none of the credit card info is actually stored in the phone – the data are encrypted and sent from Square directly to the credit card companies, without being stored on Square’s servers – security concerns (including loss of credit card info if the phone is stolen) are eliminated. 

Most mobile apps that process credit cards require a merchant account, but once set up (typically in a few days), you’re good to go.  However, Square automatically gives users access to its processing services, so users don’t even need a merchant account. 

In the 19th century, a patent office official suggested closing down the patent office because most of the useful things that could ever be invented, already were.  Who knew?

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As a recent episode of PBS Frontline (the best show on TV, IMHO) entitled Digital Nation points out – once again  – the myth of multitasking is trumped by the reality.

I can do no better than to quote from the show (and website) the words of clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has studied the phenomenon of doing more than one (or two or three or four) things at once, as is seen so often among today’s students and younger workforce:

“I teach the most brilliant students in the world,” says Turkle, “but they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the Kool-Aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with 15 other things.”

Award-winning Frontline producer Rachel Dretzin learned this firsthand by taking a few tests of her own given by Stanford professor Clifford Nass.  “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests they’re worse at analytic reasoning,” Nass tells Dretzin. “We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”

The challenge for teachers and employers alike, particularly in the technology arena, seems to be keeping students engaged and interactive, while at the same time teaching them how to think critically and strategically and deeply. 

As one student confessed: “Honestly, I can’t sit somewhere for two hours straight and focus on anything.  Maybe it’s some technology dependence I’ve developed over the course of the years, but at this point I don’t think I can go back to just focusing on one thing.”

So… Put down the iPod, the Blackberry, the iPhone, the Facebook, the Twitter… and just back slowly away

If you can.

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