Security cameras around Moscow could soon be connected to a facial recognition tool that scans crowds and tries to identify each individual person within them. This is the future of policing — the question now is how long it will take police in the United States to follow Russia’s lead.
Moscow has reportedly tapped a startup called NTechLab to provide the facial recognition software used in this system. The company was founded in 2015; it has yet to raise any funds or confirm sales of its software to any specific customers.
NTechLab was created after its co-founders beat a team from Alphabet’s X division — which is working on self-driving cars, internet-providing hot air balloons, and other high-tech projects — at a competition at the University of Washington called MegaFace.
MegaFace tasked competitors with identifying faces from 1 million photos. NTechLab took fourth place with 73 percent accuracy; X took sixth place with 70 percent accuracy. Beating the company formerly known as Google at facial recognition could be enough to justify NTechLab’s belief that it can raise funds at a $30 million valuation.
As if that weren’t enough, NTechLab then tried to woo the public with a service called FindFace that can search VKontakte (Russia’s Facebook) for anyone’s face. All its users have to do is upload an image and let the algorithms do the rest.
It isn’t much of a leap to imagine this technology being used by police. The FBI uses facial recognition software fueled by mug shots and selfies to help it find people; other law enforcement groups were bound to do the same.
NTechLab will be there to help those groups do just that. And while the company says the United States might not rush to buy its software just yet — it told the Wall Street Journal that it “could be more difficult to market their product in Europe and the U.S.” — it wouldn’t take much to convince police that they need access to better facial recognition tools.
Police are already using software to scrape information from social media to help with surveillance. The FBI used spy planes to surveil Baltimore protests in 2015. One incident on American soil, or even the fear of one, could be enough for them to argue for the use of more sophisticated facial recognition.
NTechLab and countless other companies will be there to provide it.
Photos via NTechLab, Getty Images / Ian Waldie