Currently, technologies are advancing that help authorities more easily spot suspects, but these can be defeated if the target hides behind a veil, scarf, sunglasses and other articles of clothing.

But advances in AI — Artificial Intelligence — may someday advance facial recognition to a point that renders such disguises useless:

Artificial intelligence is giving rise to unprecedented capabilities for surveillance, from facial recognition at bridge crossings to the ability to identify thousands of people at once. Now, new research suggests that AI could potentially be used to identify people who have taken steps to conceal their identities by wearing hats, sunglasses, or scarves over their faces.

The paper, accepted to appear in a computer vision conference workshop next month and detailed in Jack Clark’s ImportAI newsletter, shows that identifying people covering their faces is possible, but there’s a long way to go before it’s accurate enough to be relied upon. Researchers used a deep-learning algorithm—a flavor of artificial intelligence that detects patterns within massive amounts of data—to find specific points on a person’s face and analyze the distance between those points. When asked to compare a face concealed by a hat or scarf against photos of five people, the algorithm was able to correctly identify the person 56% of the time. If the face was also wearing glasses, that number dropped to 43%.

But those imperfect results don’t mean the paper should be ignored.

Source: Defense One

Why it’s on our radar: While this kind of technology will no doubt trigger the next major privacy debate — as it should — we have to recognize it for what it will enable authorities to do, which is keep our societies much safer.

Whether it is used by local police to identify law-breaking demonstrators and identify wanted suspects, by uniformed officers to protect federal buildings, by U.S. intelligence agencies to locate and track high-value targets, or by the military, AI-driven face recognition technology will be a major step forward in providing security.

Now, about those privacy concerns, with any technology that has the potential to be abused, rules must be put in place to protect the identities of the innocent — and then not abused by those in power. That’s the real challenge.