The future of AI surveillance is hidden in a virtual airport fish tank

Dubai International Airport, soon secured by AI.
Dubai International Airport, soon secured by AI.
Image: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili
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The airport has become the perfect testbed for next-generation surveillance techniques like large-scale facial recognition: Japan, France, and the United States have all begun to test AI-powered security systems in the already highly-surveilled spaces.

Dubai airport is taking this technology one step further, installing a virtual aquarium tunnel studded with 80 hidden cameras that will detect passengers’ identities in lieu of a security clearance counter, according to The National. The aquarium scene is meant to attract the traveller’s attention, so the camera hidden behind that particularly colorful fish will have a better angle at the person’s face. The aquarium could one day be changed to other scenes, or to display advertisements. The airport hopes to eventually add iris scanners to the tunnel.

Passengers will have to register their faces before going through security, using kiosks around the airport. It’s unclear whether luggage will be scanned within the tunnel as well, though a video from Al Bayan News shows a passenger walking through with a suitcase.

This facial-recognition tunnel gives some insight into the psychological tricks that will corral humans into playing nice with the limitations of machines. Modern facial-recognition systems need to see a certain amount of a person’s face to confidently match it with digital records—by making someone glance in a certain direction, the digital fish exploits the attention of our fleshy, unpredictable brains.

The physical environments we live in today are mostly passive: billboards, bus stop ads, and department store window displays attempt to attract our attention, but we’ve built up a resistance and hardly notice them most of the time. But when the direction of our face can give a company data on your identity and level of interest in a product through facial analysis, it’s suddenly more lucrative to capture attention at any cost. Just as attention has been commoditized on the internet, the real world will follow suit. Today it’s a digital fish, but tomorrow we might see the real-world equivalent of the flashing sidebar ad, screaming that we’re the 1,000,000th pedestrian to walk by this sign and just need to complete an iris scan to win $1,000,000.

Dubai International Airport’s tunnel will be operational in one terminal for summer 2018, and rolled out the rest of the airport by 2020.