About 15 years ago I was invited for a job interview at a company in downtown San José. It was not a position I had directly applied for – which made the invitation more intriguing – and the name of the company meant absolutely nothing to me. The firm was based in a rather seedy house with no signs outside indicating who they were or what they were about.
The conversation rapidly went from introductions and basic chat about image recognition techniques to a demonstration of where they were in their practical technology in identifying people by an automatic comparison of a photo against digital files. The whole thing was close to clandestine, although the team was seemingly quite open with me. Subsequently we have seen a lot of image recall systems in popular television programs, some of which seem to have a similar basis to the demonstrations I saw. What scared me, however, was the fact that all the file photos being used by the company were of convicted felons who were, or had been, housed by the Washington State Department of Corrections. That a government body had provided these files, knowingly or not, to a supposedly private company was quite horrifying.
Whether there has been so much progress in image identifying technology is outside my personal experience but then a recent news item caught my attention.
In the days when I was a very frequent international flyer, mostly in first class (not at my personal expense), it was a habit of my then favorite airline, PanAm, to greet you off a connecting domestic flight and escort you to the First Class lounge to await the departure of your international flight. PanAm’s successor – the singularly less hospitable United Airlines – continued the practice with a Tannoy announcement for the passenger being sought on the arriving aircraft by a ground staff concierge; knowing exactly where the lounges were it gave me great pleasure to sidestep these escorts, with their inevitably inane conversation, and go directly where I needed to go.
United backed up their VIP program with screens that lit up with dollar signs when you checked in, plus visits to the desks by senior staff on occasions like your birthday. More unnerving was the pilot sending back his compliments together with a business card. Why? So I could request a different altitude or a more scenic route?
Whereas I had no craving to be recognized as a big spender by the airlines, there is obviously a group of celebrities, or wannabe celebrities, that do want that recognition because British Airways has announced a program entitled "Know Me" that will allow staff to proactively identify, by name, such self-righteous passengers instead of having to wait for the individuals to identify themselves. The airline hopes to send images of these customers, together with personal data – and a history of previously poor experiences with the company – directly from the computer system to the iPads of customer service agents, lounge staff, and the purser on board the aircraft.
British Airways hopes to be sending 4500 such messages every day before the end of 2012.
The implied suggestion is that Google Images will be used for the photo ID part of this enhanced experience. Try it yourself with your own name and see what you get… For me Google has some near misses but not one image that is actually of me.
Is it just me or do you find this whole idea more than a little creepy? Close to stalking? Not to mention, horribly inaccurate? Use the link below to weigh in with your thoughts on our blog.