Technology could learn to be embarrassed from us

Burt's Eye View

I read the other day that San Francisco won’t let lawmen use facial recognition technology anymore because sometimes the computer hoots and hollers, “Hello!” across a crowded restaurant at the wrong person.

Me, too.

The difference is that technology never pretends to be waving instead at an imaginary friend further away. Neither do mounted cameras slink around a corner and run away.

Technology doesn’t know when to be rattled. We homo sapiens, however, have engineered embarrassment into an art form.

At a class reunion, a guy with a vaguely familiar face greeted me. My brain cells dipsyed and doodled, piecing together facial recognition clues.

“Romey!” I said. “How are you?”

While we chatted about old times, I realized that some of the things Romey said fit the wrong puzzle. A cerebral klaxon coughed a warning: “A-ooo-gah! A-ooo-gah!”

“Um,” I stammered, “You’re, uh, not Romey, are you?”

“Nope.” Ben chuckled. “I figured you’d catch on eventually.”

My biological facial recognition technology had gone — to use a technical term — ka-blooey. My face turned as red as Ben’s hair used to be before we all went gray. I excused myself and ran.

A computer would have stood its ground and insisted that Ben was Romey, even if Ben and Romey stood side-by-side and flashed their high school IDs. Artificial intelligence isn’t subject to humiliation.

I’ve been at the other end of the humanoid faux pas. Once in a Circle K, I was mistaken for George R.R. Martin, the author of “Game of Thrones.”

“No,” I said. “I wrote ‘Bash and the Pirate Pig.’ No dragons, but there is an obstinate cow in the story. Will that do?”

It didn’t.

Some smartphones feature facial recognition technology as the security code lockout mechanism. Does that mean if Dr. Bruce Banner hulks out, he won’t be able to call for an Uber?

OK, bad example. Hulk would smash the phone and the Uber.

What about Batman nemesis Two-Face? Or a Hollywood starlet who visits the plastic surgeon for a new face? Or a baseball player who gets beaned with a fastball. Would his phone refuse to let him call for help because its haughty high-techiness wouldn’t recognize him with a fat lip and broken nose?

The shameless machines seem bent on embarrassing us. When you post photos on social media sites, facial recognition technology draws boxes around the faces and pops up with boxes that ask, “Would you like to tag Buford McGuffey?”

More often than not, I’ll marvel, “How did the My InstaGrahamCrackers page know that was good ol’ Buford? It’s genius.”

A second box encapsulated one of Buford’s knees, poking out from baggy Bermuda shorts. The facial recognition program asked, “Would you like to tag Margaret L. Ferguson?”

It was the first time I realized that Aunt Marge’s face resembles a knobby kneecap.

Aunt Marge was mortified. The computer wasn’t the least bit embarrassed.

Technology may not turn red, but it seems to harbor a wicked sense of humor.

— See if you recognize Cole’s famous facial at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, on the Burton W. Cole Facebook page or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.


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