Technology, beautiful technology… Or is it?

I am constantly amazed by man’s inventiveness!

Did you see the news that Professor Stephen Hawking is being enabled to ‘write’ faster, at five words per minute, using facial recognition technology? (The Times, 22.1.13)? And the ‘magic arms’ helping a child with a severe disability towards a full, independent life.

I was recently at an amazing rehab and recovery centre for injured soldiers and saw how their lives were being transformed through the type of prosthetics seen so triumphantly at the Paralympics. And many disabled people have been liberated by IT developments.

And there are less visible advances too, as in the highly skilled use of the latest microsurgery equipment in this month’s ground-breaking hand transplant operation in Leeds.

But, while admiring the solutions technology brings, I do caution myself on two counts: only rarely do they completely ‘fix’ a problem, and they often carry unintended consequences.

The face recognition technology now supporting Stephen Hawking actually poses problems for people whose faces look unusual, especially those who are undergoing radical or reconstructive surgery, if it is used as a means of personal identification.

My accident many years ago transformed my face and over the next 5 years, it was very significantly changed as my plastic surgeons managed brilliantly to make the scars and distortions less noticeable.

Every year, thousands of people around the UK acquire unusual faces – from scars after an accident or violence, after cancer surgery or a Bell’s Palsy; or after surgery realigns their facial asymmetry. All of them are likely to find the use of facial recognition technology a complication they could do without if it were ever to become mandatory.

Interestingly, we are starting discussions with one of the agencies that uses facial recognition technology as they acknowledged the need to explore the issues once it was drawn to their attention.

I’d be interested to hear of other examples of the unintended consequences of technology – good and bad…

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