This is unexpected: John Oliver doing a segment that’s not entirely about the coronavirus or the protests against police violence feels almost like a return to normalcy. Obviously we won’t delude ourselves into thinking we’re on the path to recovery—we’re not gonna rush out to the malls and the beaches and the Vegases of the world any time soon—but when we saw the main segment from this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight was about facial recognition, it felt like we were getting back to looking at the kind of ongoing crises buzzing away in the background today, and not just the huge, immediate, existential ones that have flared up over the last few months.
Of course, the dystopian fear of a world consumed by facial recognition is only amped up by the thought that it’s being used to track protesters, and once Oliver brings that up we’re reminded once again how thoroughly stuck in 2020 we still are. Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs spent DECADES trying to build up that number’s reputation and the last four months have just totally destroyed it.
Here’s the summary: facial recognition is becoming faster, easier, more accurate, and more omnipresent, at the same time that the world is seeing a rise in authoritarianism and the militarization of law enforcement. That confluence of inter-related trends isn’t really something to feel all that good about, as Oliver explains.
Oliver focuses specifically on Clearview AI, the shady tech start-up who broke the terms of service of different social media companies to create a massive database of people’s faces without their approval or awareness, and then started marketing it to law enforcement, private companies, and, oh, at least one white supremacist would-be politician throughout the U.S. and Canada. If you think people are being alarmist or paranoid when they worry about facial recognition, or try to make themselves unrecognizable while in public, what Clearview is doing might help change your mind.
Hey, it’s Monday. Want to get bummed out but laugh at the same time? Watch the latest John Oliver segment.