Welcome to When I was here, a new project in oral history from In Machines We Depend Podcast. It contains stories of the spread of artificial intelligence by computers that took place, as told by eyewitnesses. In this first episode, we meet Joseph Atick – who helped create the first face-to-face marketing campaign.
The article was produced by Jennifer Strong, Anthony Green and Emma Cillekens with the help of Lindsay Muscato. Edited by Michael Reilly and Mat Honan. It was mixed with Garret Lang, Jacob Gorski’s composer and songwriter.
Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Strong, the recipient In Machines We Depend.
I want to tell you about some of the things we’ve been working on for a while now.
It’s called When I was here.
It is an oral history project on how the improvement of intellectual and computer power was achieved… as reported by the people who witnessed it.
Joseph Atick: And when I walked into the room, it saw my face, took it off my back and said: “I see Joseph” and it was a moment when the hair on the back … I felt like something had happened. We were witnesses.
Jennifer: We start with a man who helped to create the facial features that were the sellers … in the 90s…
I’m Joseph Atick. Today, I am the executive director of ID for Africa, a charitable organization that aims to provide people in Africa with digital information so that they can find work and exercise their rights. But I have never been involved in humanitarian work. After receiving my PhD in mathematics, along with my colleagues did some important things, which led to people selling the first face. This is why people refer to me as the founding father of face recognition and the biometric business. The idea of how the human brain can detect familiar faces appeared in research, mathematics, when I was at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. But there was never a thought of how to do this.
It was a long period of programming and failure as well as programming and failure. And one night, very early in the morning, we had just finished his writing. We sent the starting number to get the tracking number. And we went out, I went to the toilet. Then when I returned to the room and the stamp was typed and it came back. And many times when you finish writing, it just goes away on its own, and when I got into the room, it saw somebody moving in the room and they saw my face, and I pulled it back and said, “I’ve seen Joseph.” and it was time for the back hair — I felt like something had happened. We were witnesses. And I started calling some people who were still in the lab and every one of them came into the room.
And they would say, “I’ve seen Norman. If I had met Paul, I would have met Joseph. ”And we took turns walking around the room to see how many could see the room. It was, it was a moment of truth when I would say that several years of work led the way, although it was just a fantasy, there was no further addition needed. Only we realized how to use them and in the end we saw that the ability to do this was very beneficial. We set up a team that is a development team, not a research team, that focuses on putting all the capabilities on a PC platform. And that was the birth, actually the birth of a facial recognition on a commercial, I would say, in 1994.
My anxiety started very quickly. I saw a future where there was no hiding place with the growth of cameras everywhere as well as selling computers and improving computers for the better. And so in 1998, I encouraged these companies and said, we need to put in place the principles of fair use. And I feel good for a while, because I feel good. I feel we have created a code to use correctly to track and configure anywhere. However, these laws did not last long. And because of his background we didn’t expect the arrival of social media. In fact, at the time we introduced the code in 1998, we said that the most important thing in recognizing the face is the repository of celebrities. We said, if I don’t stay in the database, the machines will be blind.
And it was difficult to build the barn. We can make 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 because each image has to be selected and imported by hand — the world we live in, we are now in control where we have allowed the beast out of the bag by feeding billions of faces and supporting and self-deprecating. Ah, we are now in a world where every hope for improvement and telling everyone to take responsibility for using facial recognition is difficult. And at the same time, there is no shortage of popular faces on the internet because you can just wipe it off, as has happened recently with some companies. And so I started to panic in 2011, and I wrote an article saying it was time to press the panic button because the world is going where face recognition will be everywhere and faces will be everywhere in books.
And at that time people said I was scared, but today they realize that is what is happening today. Where are we going from here? I have been asking for rules. I have been advocating for law enforcement agencies that make it difficult for you to use someone else’s face without permission. And so it is no longer a technical problem. We cannot have this powerful technology through technological means. There has to be some kind of law. We cannot allow technology to continue our journey. At the forefront of our culture, ahead of what we think is legitimate.
The issue of acceptance continues to be very complex and very difficult when it comes to professionalism, just letting someone else know doesn’t mean I’m good enough. For me the permit must be notified. He must understand the consequences. Not only did we say, well, we wrote a sign and that was enough. We told people, and if they didn’t want to, they could go anywhere.
And I find that there are, of course, easier things to do than to think that they can get away with anything. And then, we realized that we were missing out on something very valuable. And by that time, we have destroyed people and we have come to the point where we cannot go back. That’s what I’m worried about. My concern is that facial recognition through the work of Facebook and Apple and others. I’m not saying it’s all illegitimate. Details are acceptable.
We have come to the point where ordinary people can be blasé and hopeless because they see them everywhere. And maybe 20 years, you move out of your home. You will no longer have the hope you never had. It is not noticed by many people crossing the street. I think at the moment, people are going to be very scared because the media is starting to report cases of kidnapping. People are helped, people are chosen even to take their net into the streets and be robbed. I think it’s a big responsibility in our hands.
That’s why I think the legitimacy question will continue to plague these companies. And until that question becomes a consequence, it probably won’t be solved. I think we need to set limits on what can happen with this technology.
My work has also taught me that being advanced is not a good thing because facial recognition, as we know it today, was actually made in 1994. But many people think it was made by Facebook and the learning environment, which is growing in popularity around the world. I, at one point, had to give up being the CEO of the public because I limit the use of technology that my company seeks to promote for fear of harm to the public. That’s why I see scientists need to have the courage to plan for the future and see the results of their work. I’m not saying stop it. No, you have to do all you can, and do more, but we must be honest with ourselves and warn the world and the policymakers that this has been profitable and unprofitable. Therefore, using this expertise, we need to review it with other systems to ensure that it has been submitted as useful and not incorrect.
Jennifer: I Was There When … is an oral history project that contains stories of people who saw or recorded the events in spyware and computers.
Do you have something to say? Do you know anyone who does? Email us at [email protected]
Jennifer: This article was published in New York City in December 2020 and was produced by me with the help of Anthony Green and Emma Cillekens. Edited by Michael Reilly and Mat Honan. Our composer is Garret Lang… Jacob Gorski’s composer and songwriter.
Thanks for the obedience, I am Jennifer Strong.