Failed: Surveillance Tech Predictions

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jun 08, 2013

Days before 9/11, MIT's Technology Review released a tour de force review of surveillance technologies that would soon change the world. Now, nearly a dozen years later, nearly none of them are reality. In this note, we examine these projections.

Their warning is especially ominous:

"Many observers argue it’s no longer a question of whether ubiquitous surveillance will be applied, but under what guidelines it will operate-and to what end."

And with the recent uproar over the NSA and Prism, ubiquitous Internet surveillance is certainly a risk but in the physical world, we are still far from it. Here is a recap and commentary of the claims MIT TR made in 2011:

  • "The job of spotting suspicious people and behavior in this stream of electronic imagery is becoming automatic, with computers programmed with special algorithms for matching video pixel patterns to stored patterns associated with criminals or criminal actions-and the machines themselves passing initial judgment on whether a behavior is normal." Remains science fiction, or BRS Labs claims.
  • "Identifying specific human beings by measuring the color spectrum emitted by their skin." Science fiction.
  • "Automatically measure such characteristics as leg length and waist width to provide ... 'the measurements you give to a tailor.' The idea here, he says, is that those numbers should be able to serve as a kind of body fingerprint for identifying specific individuals." Science fiction.
  • "Developing sensor-riddled “smart floors” that can identify people by the “force profiles” of their walking feet." Science fiction.
  • "An antiterrorist technique that uses a special camera to identify individuals from a hundred meters off by the patterns of color, striation and speckles in their irises." There is Sarnoff's Iris or the move but that's a far simpler and more limited implementation.
  • "Record customers’ facial expressions and eye movements, tracking the effectiveness of in-store promotions." There are some tracking based on movement but little more sophisticated than that.
  • "System detects and tracks both invariant aspects of a face, such as the distance between the eyes, and transient ones, like skin furrows and smile wrinkles. This raw data is then reclassified as representing elemental actions of the face ... Many facial expressions reflect human emotions, such as fear, happiness or rage, which, in turn, often serve as visible signs of intentions." Science fiction.
  • "Automatically scan collective human activity for signs of anything from heart-attack-inducing Type-A behavior to sexual harassment to daydreaming at the wheel to homicidal rage." Science fiction.

It says quite a lot that a prestigious, respected publication could be that dramatically off, even given a decade for their projections to come through. 

The theme in these claims was summarized in the article as the “goal of developing computer systems that can detect human activity, recognize the people involved, understand their behavior, and respond appropriately.” While we have some basic video analytics, like tripwire detection, nearly none of this goal is close to being met even now.

Computer vision problems are incredibly hard. Even with ~8 generations of Moore's law, and computing power 2 orders of magnitude greater than a decade ago, they remain hard, and mostly out of reach. This will change over time (it remains the 'next big thing') but we have clearly and vastly underestimated the difficulty of delivering production physical surveillance systems.

Despite this, the ACLU warned then, in 2001, "The technology is developing at the speed of light." More like diamonds.

Comments (0) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Most Recent Industry Reports

Hanwha Dual Imager Dome Camera Tested (PNM-7000VD) on Oct 18, 2018
Hanwha has introduced their first dual-imager model, the PNM-7000VD, a twin 1080p model featuring independently positionable sensors and a snap-in...
Camera Height / Blind Spot Added to IPVM Camera Calculator on Oct 18, 2018
IPVM has added camera height and blind spot estimation to the Camera Calculator. This is especially helpful for those who need to mount cameras up...
Axis Strong US Growth, Flat EMEA - Q3 2018 Financials on Oct 18, 2018
This spring, Axis had its best financials in many years (see Axis Strong Q2 2018 Results). However, over the summer, Axis had many products sold...
Best Alternatives to Banned Dahua and Hikvision on Oct 17, 2018
With the US government ban and a growing number of users banning Dahua and Hikvision, one key question is what to use for low cost? While Dahua and...
Video Quality / Compression Tutorial on Oct 17, 2018
While CODECs, like H.264, H.265, and MJPEG, get a lot of attention, a camera's 'quality' or compression setting has a big impact on overall...
Knightscope Winning Investors, Struggling With Growth on Oct 16, 2018
While Knightscope's new financials show the company only winning 11 new customers in the past 12 months, the company continues to win new...
Integrator Laptop Guide on Oct 16, 2018
This 18-page guide provides guidance and statistics about integrator laptop use. 150 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their laptops,...
Huawei Admits AI "Bubble" on Oct 16, 2018
A fascinating article from the Chinese government's Global Times: Huawei’s AI ambition to reshape industries. While the Global Times talks about...
ADI's Financials Revealed + W-Box Growth Priority on Oct 15, 2018
  ADI is one of the most powerful distributors in the security industry but how big are they? How much profit do they make? How much do they sell...
Dahua Face Recognition Camera Tested on Oct 15, 2018
Dahua has been one of the industry's most vocal proponents of the value that AI creates: As part of this, Dahua has released a facial...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact