In The Eye Of The Beholder

Scientists have come up with a method of photographic analysis that allows them to determine what people are looking at.

Shree K. Nayar, a professor of computer science and co-director of the Columbia Vision and Graphics Center, took high-resolution photographs of people that include their eyes and, in particular, the transparent part of the eye called the cornea. Then, with a postdoctoral researcher, Ko Nishino, he devised computer algorithms that analyze the images reflected in these natural mirrors, revealing a wealth of information.

The system can automatically recover wide-angle views of what people are looking at, including panoramic details to the left, right and even slightly behind them. It can also calculate where people are gazing – for instance, at a single smiling face in a crowd.

Of course, while this technology has potential for good uses, there is also potential for abuse.

Because the algorithms can track exactly where a person is looking, the system may one day find use in surveillance cameras that spot suspicious behavior or in interfaces for quadriplegics who use their gaze to operate a computer.

I’d like to know just what they think would constitute suspicious behavior?  I tend to scan crowds looking for people who might be acting odd as a standard precaution.  Will this get me pegged as a shady character by the system?  How about staring at a cop’s gun?  I generally look out of curiosity to see what model he’s carrying.  Is that suspicious?  Would it get me stopped and questioned?  How is this anyone’s business as long as I don’t make any threats or moves towards the cop?  Seriously, there is no computer system that can approximate the “hairs on the back of your neck”/“what’s that guy up to?” neural warning system in our heads.  All a computer can do is flag certain behaviors for a person to check.  But that just ends up singling out lots of innocent people for further scrutiny, perhaps to the detriment of looking for a real bad buy.

On a less serious note, do we really want to be able to analyze where guys are looking?  Or do we really need to analyze it?  As the Slashdot posters mention, it sounds like it has the potential to get a lot of guys in trouble with their girlfriends/wives. 

If this became widespread I suppose sunglasses would become required accessories if you wanted to maintain even a tiny shred of privacy.

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