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Monday, August 2, 2021

Let’s not trust AI to profile people from their head vibrations

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Digital video surveillance systems can’t just identify who someone is. They can also work out how someone is feeling and what kind of personality they have. They can even tell how they might behave in the future. And the key to unlocking this information about a person is the movement of their head.

That is the claim made by the company behind the VibraImage artificial intelligence (AI) system. (The term “AI” is used here in a broad sense to refer to digital systems that use algorithms and tools such as automated biometrics and computer vision). You may never have heard of it, but digital tools based on VibraImage are being used across a broad range of applications in Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

But as I show in my recent research, published in Science, Technology and Society, there is very little reliable, empirical evidence that VibraImage and systems like it are actually effective at what they claim to do.

Among other things, these applications include identifying “suspect” individuals among crowds of people. They are also used to grade the mental and emotional states of employees. Users of VibraImage include police forces, the nuclear industry and airport security. The technology has already been deployed at two Olympic Games, a FIFA World Cup and a G7 Summit.

In Japan, clients of such systems include one of the world’s leading facial recognition providers (NEC), one of the largest security services companies (ALSOK), as well as Fujitsu and Toshiba. In South Korea, among other uses it is being developed as a contactless lie detection system for use in police interrogations. In China, it has already been officially certified for police use to identify suspicious individuals at airports, border crossings and elsewhere.

Across east Asia and beyond, algorithmic security, surveillance, predictive policing and smart city infrastructure are becoming mainstream. VibraImage forms one part of this emerging infrastructure. Like other algorithmic emotion detection systems being developed and deployed globally, it promises to take video surveillance to a new level. As I explain in my paper, it claims to do this by generating information about subjects’ characters and inner lives that they don’t even know about themselves.

Vibraimage has been developed by Russian biometrist Viktor Minkin through his company ELSYS Corp since 2001. Other emotion detection systems try to calculate people’s emotional states by analysing their facial expressions. By contrast, VibraImage analyses video footage of the involuntary micro movements, or “vibrations”, of a person’s head, which are caused by muscles and the circulatory system. The analysis of facial expressions to identify emotions has come under growing criticism in recent years. Could VibraImage provide a more accurate approach?

Surveillance systems can profile individuals in huge crowds.
Credit: Pexels
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