Wednesday, March 13, 2013

MIT Invisible Motion Program and Reporting Unethical

The New York Times Blog recently featured a post about a project from MIT that uncovers invisible movement in video and explores how this technology can unobtrusively evaluate health. As you'll see in this video, the technology, called Eulerian Video Magnification, makes respiration and pulse rate visible.

I find it peculiar and unsettling that the author of this post and the creators of this video did not explore the ethical problems with this technology, not even after explaining that the code required to enable the technology was posted online, available to "anyone who wanted to use it," (who had the necessary skills to run it).

How would you like it if someone could film you, or even apply the technology to existing film of you, and see how fast your heart is beating, without your permission. It even happened in this video! (Presumably, Christian Bale didn't permit this dude to use this technology on him, then release it online.)

Some people argued that this technology is unethical because it could enable a police state or people could incorrectly or illogically assume things by evaluating heart rate. You can't tell why the person has a rapid heartbeat. It's seldom active now thanks to medication, but I have a mild condition that makes my heart race inappropriately.

This technology doesn't just present privacy issues because of the objectives of people who use it and because heart rate can measure emotions.

Why should anyone be allowed to evaluate my heart rate without my knowledge or permission, for any reason? It's private. It's inside of me, so it belongs to me and me alone.

Yes, private even if I have nothing to be anxious about, even if I've done nothing wrong. It's private even if I do have something to be anxious about, have done something wrong. It's private if I'm aware I'm being examined by video in this way and also if I'm not. It's private even if I'm totally calm. It's private even if heart rate wasn't impacted by emotions. It's private if the motives of people using this technology are good (up for debate!). It'd be private even if I didn't have a heart issue. It's private, even though I do.

I am repeatedly baffled by how many scientists, journalists, politicians justify new technologies/uses and fail to explore, at least not adequately, the ethical issues. I think this technology would only be ethical if used with people's permission, for medical reasons only, and their permission is optional, no recourse if you say no. MIT can restrict this technology (as you remember, they chose not to), but even MIT did, hackers and others could get a hold of it.

What do you think of this program by MIT and how it was reported?

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