Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Unknown No More

A few weeks ago my wife and had the great opportunity to visit a wonderful Picasso museum in Barcelona, Spain called Museu Picasso de Barcelona. The museum reveals the development of Picasso over time with early works progressing through his later day works. Do visit Barcelona if you ever get the chance and do visit this museum.

There were numerous paintings in the collection of people Picasso met or knew but many of those paintings do not have the name of the person who is in the painting. Paintings like the following ones:

Some of the paintings have a name associated with them, but several did not. The person in the painting lived and breathed and was captured in a painting by a famous artist, but his name has been lost to history.

As I was thinking about this while still in the museum, it occurs to me that this is unlikely to happen going forward. Think about all the places your face has been captured and has been posted online in the past 5 years. Facebook alone likely has your name and lots of information about you associated with multiple pictures of you. The same is true of other online repositories. LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. are other places as well as blogs and Twitter where you might have left a footprint.

The age of photos in a shoebox or in a photo album has passed and people today are capturing their children growing up, their family reunions, their class reunions and other gatherings with pictures (and video) online. 

Now presumably, those digital images will be around forever? I don't know that Facebook lasts 200 years, but it is likely that the content and your digital footprint will be around somewhere from now on.

Couple the online inventory of your photos together with face recognition technology like the simple version in iPhoto and it is not unreasonable that it will be possible to identify unknown people in photos (and paintings) years later.

Several years ago I read the book World Without Secrets: Business, Crime and Privacy in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing which discussed what this might mean in the future. Zittrain's book Future of the Internet--and How to Stop It  had some similar thoughts about facial recognition technology and what it might mean.

The short version for this post is that now and going forward, people are going to be remembered differently, more completely and in a connected fashion instead of being lost to the ages. There are positive and negative implications from this...

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