A better facial recognition algorithm could enhance security and also raise awareness about the effects of aging.
What does getting soaked in ice-cold water have in common with creating a then-and-now photo collage of yourself?
Both are social-media driven initiatives that could potentially help solve some of society’s problems.
The former’s goal of raising awareness of ALS disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), along with funding for research, was clearly defined in social media and generally applauded. The second, called the “10 Year Challenge,” has become the subject of controversy, even though it could help improve security, solve crimes, locate missing or kidnapped children and even raise our awareness of the effects of aging on humans.
The 10 Year Challenge consists of creating a photo collage combining a recent photo of yourself and one from 10 years ago. The resulting image is then posted on Facebook or Instagram. This challenge went viral, and resulted in people making fun of their friends for getting older. Some people were even lucky enough to get compliments for looking younger and healthier than they did a decade ago.
However, the 10 Year Challenge has received some negative attention. Kate O’Neill wrote in an opinion piece for Wired that Facebook potentially had an agenda. She argued that the social media giant might be using the 10 Year Challenge to train a facial recognition algorithm to study the evolution of facial traits by examining the progression of physical characteristics through time. She explains that the challenge provides Facebook with a curated dataset of then-and-now pictures that would help improve the ability of the algorithm to guess how people would look when they get older. Obviously, this has many implications for our privacy.
I can’t disprove her theory, but why should we care so much? We are already giving Facebook everything it needs to create this algorithm, which it probably already has. The challenge would only help speed up the process of optimizing their algorithm because it provides Facebook with a clean dataset.
I believe there are important benefits that can be drawn from this challenge. Let’s imagine this conspiracy theory turns out to be true and that Facebook is using the challenge to optimize their facial recognition software. The improved algorithm benefits outweigh the harm that could be done.
A better facial recognition algorithm means enhanced security in vulnerable areas like airports, high schools and subways. Cameras can be trained to recognize faces. The software can help solve crimes by identifying or locating criminals. It can also help find missing children. In fact, the police of New Delhi used a facial recognition software to trace nearly 3,000 missing children in just four days. Imagine if this software were to be improved.
It is true that such improvements could threaten our privacy by enabling mass surveillance, but as with everything, proper regulation is necessary to reduce misuse.
Finally, an additional benefit of this challenge could be raising awareness about the effect of aging on our lives. Two-thirds of daily deaths are due to aging, making it the No. 1 cause of deaths in the world. Yet, anti-aging research remains poorly funded.
The ALS ice-bucket challenge became so popular that influencers like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos participated. It raised nearly $115 million, of which two-thirds were invested in research to treat this disease. Since then, many clinical trials have been approved and are underway.
What if this 10 Year Challenge can have a similar effect and raise awareness on aging, leading to influencers investing money on anti-aging research?
If you haven’t participated in the new trend, don’t be left out. I invite you to create this photo collage and post it on social media. You could be contributing to a solution to many of our societal problems.
Younes Medkour is a Public Scholar and PhD candidate in biology at Concordia University. His research focuses on delaying the aging process.