Monday, 9 May 2016

So nice to be recognised! But one could go further...

Not what you may think. I'm talking about the sign-on procedure with Verity, my new Microsoft surface Book laptop. Verity runs Windows 10 Professional and has a webcam placed in a perfect position for scanning my face. This enables her to employ the Hello method of signing-on without compromises. It's a 3D scan using infra-red, so it can't be fooled by someone else armed with a 2D colour photo print of the Melford visage. It has worked well from the very beginning.

And the intriguing thing is that Hello is working better and better as time goes by. At the start - and that was only a week and a half ago - the webcam needed a few seconds to consider the matter. It played for time, displaying a 'Just making sure it's really you' message on the screen, while the Windows 10 wheel-of-dots went round and round, spinning out the seconds. You could almost feel it pondering the issue, like a suspicious human customs official trying to match a bad photo in a years-old passport with the actual living face of the person wanting to enter the country. I dare say it was weighing up each biometric reference point from the original scan, building up a probability profile, and if this came close enough to what it considered a good match, then I'd be let in.

Meanwhile I'd be sitting there, hoping, holding my breath, and half-expecting to be told 'Very sorry, Lucy - if that's really your name - but could you use another sign-in method instead? Do you mind?' (There were a couple of these methods, just in case)

Such was the build-up that it was a wonderful feeling when the magic 'Ah, welcome, Lucy!! How fabulous to see you again!' message appeared.

I hadn't of course been put through any great stress or ordeal, but the procedure made me feel that there was a very significant gateway to get through - a very significant psychological one, anyway - and that if my face didn't fit, it would stay locked against me. So I badly wanted recognition. In any case, I wanted my new and very personal laptop to know it was me and no other. Like lovers sense each other's presence in the dark.

Well, with one early exception, that webcam has been letting me in every time, lately after only the briefest of glimpses - practically in a flash. I had to be very quick to get this screen print today:

Almost instant recognition now. How can this be? Has Verity been rescanning me again and again, to acquire a better and better notion of what I look like in various lights and moods? It certainly seems as if a learning process has been at work. I am now at least 95% confident that I could proudly demonstrate the Hello method of signing-in to a friend, and not be let down by an embarrassing shut-out.

I wonder. Is there literally some artificial intelligence doing its stuff here? Some cunning built-in algorithm that has honed that first fuzzy impression into a razor-sharp remembrance that can easily distinguish between the Real Lucy Melford and a Vile Imposter? Whatever the case, it really does feel as if Verity and I have become significantly better-acquainted. You could say we are now firm friends, well on our way to an Inseparable Bond that no man shall put asunder.

The cynical side of me wonders whether this Hello recognition business is a deliberate ploy on Microsoft's part to introduce super-personalisation and turn a straightforward and practical business device into a personal friend that 'knows' you. You can imagine lonely Road Warriors, who completely rely on their laptops and other devices, forming a very close relationship with their electronic buddies; and the more personal they are, the more comforting and consolatory the relationship can be. It's a definite selling point.

The next step, surely just around the corner, is to add a voice-recognition method of signing on, one that you can freely set up to suit yourself, so that you not only get scanned, but you have to say the right words in the right voice. Thus 'What-ho, Verity, old thing!' or some such.

Or go one step further, and set up a conversation. Now this would amount to a very secure method of signing-on. On these lines:

[Lucy opens Verity's lid and begins to speak. The other train passengers look on amused.]

Lucy: The grass is green, the sky is blue.
Verity: The clouds are white and I love you.
Lucy: The fish are leaping, the willows are weeping.
Verity: 'Tis harvest time, and the men are reaping.
Lucy: Let's have a game of Monopoly!
Verity: But not till we reach Thermopylae.
Lucy: How the buzzing bees do hum!
Verity: A drum, a drum! MacBeth doth come!

[The sign-on conversation complete, Verity lets Lucy in]

You see what I mean.

Come on, Microsoft, this is a great idea worth development. Get on with it.

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Lucy Melford