Digital Mind Tricks & Fingerprints

by | Dec 2, 2019 | ICT4D |

Our minds do wonderful things. On the one hand our minds can compartmentalise our experience and knowledge. On the other hand, our minds see patterns, connections, and enable to synthesise information. Often it is not the action itself but its combination with other actions (the context) which impacts the interpretation.

Take biometrics as an example. Many societies have been capturing fingerprints for years. It often happens within a police station or some form of security situation. Now many of our phones, iPads, laptops, etc. use fingerprints to unlock them. Mentally we tend to separate these two things due to the context in which they are happening.

Sometimes though, we are beginning to require biometric capture to ‘prove’ you are who you say you are to access a service. It could be a government service, an education service, or social services. Depending on our role, mentally we might ‘see’ these experiences differently. If we have to give our fingerprint to access a social service, it may ‘feel’ too close to police fingerprinting we’ve see on TV. We may feel like a criminal. While the organisation may view the fingerprinting similar to unlocking your phone.

Facial recognition and scanning can be similar. In the medical context, we’ve been taking pictures and scans of people for decades. X-rays, MRIs, cat-scans, and many other imaging techniques. These are personal, private, and can be invasive. Generally speaking, we are ok with this as we categorise it as ‘care’. Again phones are now starting to enable facial recognition and the police are using it more and more. Extremely strangely, even some public transit systems are considering using it.

All different contexts. And yes, the technologies being used are slightly different. However, mentally we think about them quite differently. In each context, we have a very different sense of perceived control. We also have a sense of trust in the medical sector, built over thousands of years.

In the humanitarian space, we’ve collected fingerprints as a substitute for a signature for decades. Once the person had received their aid, they put a fingerprint by their name as a signature. Shifting this process to digital biometric capture doesn’t appear to be a big shift if viewed within that context. Once you step out of the context and connect fingerprints to the police, it looks and feels very different.

One of the interesting impacts of smart devices is how they make us feel more comfortable with different technology. We’re more comfortable with artificial intelligence because of Siri and now Alexa and Google. We’re ok with biometric capture because we unlock our devices this way. And so on. And when we are comfortable, applying the same technology in another context appears like a no brainer. This is especially true if we can marry the comfort with security. Ever since 9/11 we can use the security argument to override concerns about privacy, control or rights.

Technology and its applications are perceived different depending on where we view them from. Where do we perceive it sitting on the spectrum of care and control? What is the context for its use and how does it impact our comfortability with it? How is it being used in other contexts and how does that impact our perceptions?

Debating this with people with diverse opinions and experiences is foundational to a way forward.

Photo by Lukenn Sabellano

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