AI Can Now Recognize Your Friends

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Surveillance technology has long been able to identify you. Now, with help from artificial intelligence, it’s trying to figure out who your friends are.

With a few clicks, this “co-appearance” or “correlation analysis” software can find anyone who has appeared on surveillance frames within a few minutes of the gray-haired male over the last month, strip out those who may have been near him a time or two, and zero in on a man who has appeared 14 times. The software can instantaneously mark potential interactions between the two men, now deemed likely associates, on a searchable calendar.

Vintra, a San Jose-based company that showed off the technology in an industry video presentation last year, sells the co-appearance feature as part of an array of video analysis tools.

Although co-appearance technology is already used by authoritarian regimes such as China’s, Vintra seems to be the first company marketing it in the West, industry specialists say.

Industry experts and watchdogs say that if the co-appearance tool is not in use now—and one analyst expressed certainty that it is—it will probably become more reliable and more widely available as artificial intelligence capabilities advance.

“This is the Orwellian future come to life,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. “A deeply alarming surveillance state where you’re tracked, marked and categorized for use by public- and private-sector entities—that you have no knowledge of.”

Markey plans to reintroduce a bill that would halt the use of facial recognition and biometric technologies by federal law enforcement and require local and state governments to ban them.

As reported by