Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I was meandering my way through the pained corners of the news soul cycle the other day, when something made me stop, stare and hum the Tubeway Army's classic Are 'Friends' Electric?

Here was news that concert ticket colossus Ticketmaster was considering the elimination of tickets in favor of facial recognition technology.

That would, of course, be entertaining.

For those who embrace a constantly surveilled society, perhaps.

As if Facial Recognition was my theme of the day, however, I came across another tale, one that might make one or two sentient humans shudder.

Last year, the South Wales Police Department thought it would see how many nefarious types might attend the Champions League Final in Cardiff.

(Should you suffer from cultural anomie, this is a major European soccer event. This year's is to be played at the end of May and will feature Liverpool and Real Madrid.)

I imagine that the South Wales police were rather excited at such a convenient way to sit back, relax and nab criminals.

All they had to do was compare the images coming in from various CCTV-type cameras with the custody database of profile pictures.

What could be easier?

Yet, as a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed, the machines seemed to need corrective lenses.

There were 173 positive identifications.

Oh, and 2,297 utter messes. Or, as the police prefers to call them, false positives.

My laptop's calculator suggests that the tech was right roughly 7 percent of the time.

The police were delighted with the results.

Yes, I said delighted.

I fear you don't believe me. Well, here's a quote from the the police's own website:

The past 10 months have been a resounding success it [sic] terms of validating the technology, building confidence amongst our officers and the public whilst offering a potential area for growth for us with the technology in the future.

It's enchanting to see that amongst and whilst are still alive.

It seems, though, that officers' eyes come alive at their ability to stop as many innocent people as possible, in order to catch a relative few bad soccer fans.

Here's how the police put it: 

The overall effectiveness of facial recognition has been high, evidenced in part by the positive match figures of AFR Identify and the number of charges being brought against offenders.

If a striker had that sort of goals to shots attempted average, he'd never, ever play in a Champions League Final.

Instead, here the technology was wrong 93 percent of the time, but it's a win. 

And, hey, it worked on the Elvises.

Indeed, when the technology was used at the Elvis Festival, there were 10 positive ID's and a mere 7 of the Almost-Positive-Well-Actually-Completely-And-Utterly Wrong's.

Once someone has defined progress -- often someone who wants to make money out of that definition -- there's little you can do.

You're already going through certain airports and other public areas and being identified by Facial Recognition.

More and more companies are using it in order to allow for 'secure' entry into their buildings.

You may have even bought an iPhone X, which uses Face ID to allow itself to be opened. (Apple promises that your pictures won't go further.)

Facial Recognition doesn't work all the time, it seems, but, hey, what does?

As for the potential negative consequences, oh, which tech company ever thought about those before it was too late?

Published on: May 8, 2018
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