Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RoboCop, Facial Recognition and the Leap of Innovation from Fantasy to Reality

Last week, road testing of a high tech mobile facial recognition system by Brazil police evoked the memories of the 1987 movie Robocop from journalists and bloggers all over the globe. The parallel to the high-tech helmet worn by Robocop Alex Murphy was unavoidable. The system the Brazilian police are planning to use during the 2014 World cup soccer tournament combines a high power camera equipped with face recognition technology connected via wireless link to a back-office computer.  Face recognition algorithms are being perfected for many years now, have been used by police, airport security systems and many other surveillance systems. The Brazilian application is an interesting mobile version of a similar system. The police will have  sunglasses with cameras that can scan 400 faces per second. The camera has a wireless link to a database that can cross-check 46,000 points on the face with 13 million mug shots of known criminals to find a match.  

Physicist and futurologist Michio Kaku in a recent CNN interview suggests that we take cues from Sci-Fi to get a sense of the future.  “Physics makes science-fiction happen” was his prescient comment as he sprinkled examples from Matrix, Predator, Blade Runner and Star Trek to paint a notion of the world twenty, fifty or hundred years from now.

He definitely has a point. Kaku’s real hero Einstein once said “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions”. The same imagination that motivates creators of sci-fi novels or movies can morph into reality in the hands of scientists and engineers.

Examples are many. While the notion of a submarine existed in the 19th century, Jules Verne in his 1870 novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the sea” first imagined a submarine named Nautilus  that could stay and  travel under water for many days, driven by an ultra-quiet engine that runs on processed fuel. A little under a century later, the world’s first long-distance nuclear submarine USS Nautilus made its maiden voyage in 1954. Verne’s 1865 novel “From the Earth to the Moon” presaged a close parallel of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. 

And, long before Steve Jobs envisioned the iPad, Gene Roddenberry already created his own celluloid version in Star Trek – the Next Generation.

So next time you discount those odd gizmos in a late night Sci Fi movie, think again, right there may be an idea for the next big invention !


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    1. note - my blog address has changed to TechetVita.blogspot.com.