Soft Biometrics

Karl Ricanek has an article in the Sept. Computer Magazine, “Beyond Recognition: The Promise of Biometric Analytics“.  He points out a range of possible applications for biometric analysis beyond identifying specific individuals.   Many of these are ‘grist’ for the social impact mill.  Karl defines Biometric Analytics as the discovery of potentially interesting information about a person other than identity using biometric signal patterns. He includes in these emotional state, longevity, aliveness (if you a reading this, you are alive), continuous authentication, ethnicity, gender, age (demographics in general), honesty, concentration, mood, attitude, and even frustration with automated phone systems (‘dial 1 if you like talking to robots, dial 2 if you would like to toss your phone out the window, …’) A few specific examples include:

  1. Audience reaction research – detecting smiles, confusion, boredom, or distress. This could help editing movies, or developing higher impact advertising.
  2. Karl’s own research is on detection of age and longevity.  He has a web site, FaceMyAge that uses facial photos for this. Apparently if you look older than you are, you are likely to die younger, insight life insurance companies might value. Also cosmetic companies in terms of helping you to look younger (and maybe reduce your life insurance premiums?)

Karl anticipates answers to everyday questions  such as: “is the speaker on TV being honest?” (not needed for QVC, politicians, … or even many news programs now days); “How much money will I need for retirement?” (a discrete way of asking ‘how much time do I have left?’);”Will using this cosmetic really make me look younger?” — and the most dangerous question of all “does this outfit make me look fat?” (ok, Karl does not include this one.) Engineers and autistic persons are reputedly poor at reading the emotional state of others. Perhaps a possible Google Glass app would provide a some clues. Some devices for the improved transmission  of biometric signals have been developed as well.  My granddaughter just obtained a set of Brainwave Cat Ears which are supposed to indicate your state (focused, in-the-zone, relaxed) …. and, ‘ur, ah no you look just great in those cat ears, not fat at all’ (or at least that is what my Glass app suggested I say.) What biometric analytics would you encourage? What unanticipated consequences do you envision?

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