Minority Report Technology: Facial Recognition Used to Target Billboard Ads

‘Chief John Anderton’ (Tom Cruise) runs through a mall, his path punctuated by ads of his favorite products calling out to him as he tries to escape. Now, imagine yourself standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, when you notice a nearby billboard displays an ad for a running shoe, followed by a beer promo and then a sports channel commercial. If it seems like the billboard knows a man in his late 20s to mid-40s is standing nearby, it’s because it does. With the latest advances in facial recognition software becoming the newest marketing tool, advertisers can tailor their messages directly to you.

Just like a scene out of the 2002 Steven Spielberg futuristic thriller, ‘Minority Report,’ facial recognition software is now being used to customize billboard advertisements to anyone who is looking at the billboard.

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In a case of life imitating art, Immersive Labs has developed camera-enhanced billboards. According to ABC News the tech company will start rolling out their “smart signs” this fall, installing small cameras into existing digital billboards in heavily trafficked areas, such as airports and malls.

The founder and CEO of Immersive Labs, Jason Sosa, explained to ABC News that “all we’re looking for is, ‘Is there a face present? Is it male or female? What age is it?’ merely identify a viewer as fitting into certain consumer categories.” Sosa says the system does not record faces or their preferences, an important distinction from the advertising displays depicted in ‘Minority Report.’

Sosa reported told ‘The Washington Post,’ “the targeting technology has shown an over 60% increase in viewer attention time during pilot tests” but  according to the ‘Los Angeles Times,’ companies are currently trying to use this technology to tailor their advertisements based on age and gender to a demographic, rather than to identify a specific individual.

This is not the first time technology seen in ‘Minority Report’ has become a reality. Transparent displays, biometric scanning, touch screens, self-guided vehicles and 3-D televisions becoming part of our daily lives. Even gaming systems, like the Xbox 360 Kinect, have found a way to develop interface technology similar to the iconic ‘Minority Report’ scenes.

Watch the eerily similar comparisons below:

A Hollywood “visual futurist,” Syd Mead has consulted on several science fiction films, such as ‘Star Trek,’ ‘2010,’ and ‘Blade Runner’ and has made a career out of imagining new technologies. As Mead explained to NPR, he researches the latest technologies related to a specific script and then makes a creative leap to visualize the future possibilities or applications of that technology, noting “science fiction is reality ahead of schedule.”

Though there may be well-founded privacy concerns related to facial recognition software, as well as many of the other technologies depicted in ‘Minority Report,’ Mead believes, “technology is invented, and it goes into the broad universe, where it does neat things or horrible things.” I other words, it is up to us to decide how we use that technology.

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