March 11th, 2010
10:35 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan – There's a scene in Steven Spielberg's 2002 movie "Minority Report" that’s stuck with me, even many years after I initially saw the film. As Tom Cruise walks through a mall, cameras lining the ceilings and walls scan his retinas and advertisements custom-made for him pop up. He enjoys beer, so up pops a Guinness ad. But the electronic tracking becomes problematic when Cruise is trying to hide from the authorities, realizing that it’s impossible in his futuristic world.

Well, that future has arrived in Tokyo. NEC has developed an advertisement that follows a similar idea to what was imagined in "Minority Report," with a camera installed inside an electronic billboard that reads your face.

Using facial recognition technology, an internal computer determines your gender and your age. The billboard then pulls up an ad based on your demographic, targeting your best possible interest. The billboard I tried out saw that I was indeed a woman in her thirties and... lo and behold, pulled up a very appealing lunch advertisement.

To be clear, it didn’t read my retina and didn’t talk to me. But the billboard did capture my image, store my demographic data and will send that information on to the company.

How can this work so quickly and so accurately, I asked NEC's engineer Junko Amagai. She started waxing engineer-like and lost me fairly quickly, talking about numbers, logarithms and data storage. But the bottom line is that facial-recognition technology has just gotten much more pedestrian - down to the pedestrians walking by these digital ads.

"This is a new age of advertising," Amagai said. "We can learn something we never knew for marketing." Amagai explained how currently street advertising is a one-way game and companies never get real-time data from passers-by. This system changes that.

The NEC technology estimates your age to within 10 years. The technology is even more accurate for a new system it is testing and had on display at a recent fair in Tokyo. I was surprised to see it nail my age nearly every time.

Does it make one feel a little, say, overly-observed? Art Frickus, a consultant from the Netherlands, certainly didn’t feel that way. "I believe in one-on-one communication," said Frickus. “All your messages must be relevant. So that’s why I believe in this kind of thing. As long as the content is not objectionable, I don't see any problem with it."

NEC, aware of some potential unease as it launches the product for testing in the United States, says signs will clearly state to observers that a camera is installed in the billboard. Images will not be saved, stressed NEC. The company then made a bold statement about the global prospects for such electronic advertising.

"Ten percent of digital signage will be like this," said NEC spokesman Kosuke Yamauchi. How soon? In two to three years, he explained. That’s not within tech-loving Japan, he said. That's a global prediction, from the United States to the EU to China.

So, naturally, one must wonder what will happen in say, 10 years. Will we see electronic tracking as sophisticated as what was imagined in "Minority Report?"

I dare not even try and guess.

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. nobody

    looks like time to stock up on ski masks and spray paint....

    March 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  2. Alicia Townes

    I don"t think it is a good idea because their is enough spying in this country already

    March 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  3. jude11

    Big Brother has gone Japanese. I would avoid this at all costs.

    March 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Tjockis

    George Orwells 1984 is here... :-(

    March 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  5. Kory

    Pretty cool!! I like the idea in concept, but i just don't want to see this technology being exploited by a hacker or the like. Otherwise all these camera's will do is grab our credit card info as we pull the card out to swipe it!! The technology is still very impressive, and the applications extend beyond advertisement. thumbs up!!

    March 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  6. Mel

    Wow, so that's why those porn ads kept popping up in front of, just kidding! The explanation given by Ms. Junko Yesyourgai (lol!) really makes me think it's only a matter of time before we literally have ads popping up inside our own heads!

    March 12, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  7. Vendo Thefastlane

    This isn't really any different than the normal data mining that goes on. There still isn't any individuality. It's not even as intrusive as having someone looking at people and pushing a button to record their apparent age, or having it recorded with a credit card purchase, etc. The only negatice I can see is someone not liking the fact that he or she looks older is reminded of it by an advertisement targeting that age... where humans might be too polite or be condescending about someone's aging!

    March 12, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  8. Jonny


    March 12, 2010 at 2:09 am |
  9. John

    I don't think any advertiser has the right to know my information unless I agree to share it with them. If I am walking in a public place, no one has the right to scan my face. I have a right (in the USA) to privacy.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  10. buzhang007

    wow,wonderful and i am eager to see it,but still a little fear of those devices which magbe take aways our privacy sneaky. " Images will not be saved"they stressed it,but who know?and who can promise?

    March 12, 2010 at 2:44 am |
  11. Momoe

    Big brother will be watching us in 2 to 3 years?!

    March 12, 2010 at 4:17 am |
  12. D.Rao

    Mind boggling! But it is always a welcome move if fantasised technology is brought to applicable reality. This would probably be of great use if it can fight terrorism. It may be a long shot now, but if the demographics can be pulled out by simply sensing facial expressions, hopefully that of the wrong doers can be caught on tape too. Way to go Japan!

    March 12, 2010 at 4:47 am |
  13. Dean

    Good Gawd!
    For starters, I'm sorry, but we are so very, VERY far behind in technology as a Human Race that it baffles the intellect. We (America) needs to get it's head out of it's own ass and step up and soon. Else the Chinese, Japanese or the Germans will inevitably will leap forward and surpass us as a nation. I have a feeling it's already happened many times over, it's just our beloved Government isn't willing to share that juicy but of intel with the dumbness of the general American public just yet. Educational statistics already show that we as a nation are lagging way, way behind in all the important subjects already. Science, Math, Engineering, History, Linguistics and the many levels of Technology. Face it, we are sucking at leading, more and more every passing decade. And it it is really showing on every single level. I love this country, and what it 'used' to stand for, I fought for it, but we need to humble and smarten up. FAST!

    March 12, 2010 at 5:54 am |
  14. louis

    This is very distrubing to me. Technology is reading our minds without our permission, planting seeds. Advertising has crossed the line.

    March 12, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  15. Alex

    I guess we'll need to start wearing masks when walking outside. Everyone will look the same wearing those plastic black rimmed glasses with the big nose and mustache.

    March 12, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  16. ducaneel

    As IT technology evolves even much quicker then ever, individualization is a must-be tendency. I saw this in a positive and optimistic way.

    Take Google for example. The information is flushing in when you are searching for something, most of which are aimless and useless data. However, when the webs are developing, a more organized data processing way is in highly demand based on the searchers gender, age and interests......

    March 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  17. rekha chatterjee cpa

    wow advertising and technology meet

    March 15, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  18. Edmund Lee

    Interesting technology – would it ever be used to track terrorists?

    March 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  19. A. Smith, Oregon

    This year, 2010 Minority births will exceed the total number of 'white' births in America for the first time in modern history. In 20 years, Hispanics will push the Democratic party into a insurmountable position against the lame white supremacist Republican Party. In 20 years, Texas will finally get their wish to succeed from the United States, they'll be given back to Mexico!

    Thank God the end of the Republican party is on the horizon!

    March 16, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  20. Jason Francis

    I like it. I am tired of being bombarded with advertisements for products and services I do not need or want- especially when they are of the kind that annoy me. Hopefully this technology will come into common use here in the states so I do not have to repeatedly listen to commercials for "male enhancement", "feminine itching", or "we can't move forward until" I "mail it back". I would much rather know that skinless, boneless chicken breasts are on special for $1.99 lb, boys t-shirts are 15% off until Thursday, or Burn Notice is on a new night at a new time.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  21. Johnnie

    It would be truly awesome to think that this could be a reality – but I shudder to think of the true implications.

    March 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  22. Jessy

    At the rate technology has advanced and look at our endless human curiosity and boundless thinking, there's no end to this.

    The only way to avoid this is by looking like Stan's dad in South Park when he convinced the entire town to go back to the Roman age of wearing a toga, having kids play with squirls and then casting squirls at anyone how dare angers the economy. XD

    March 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  23. Mimi Yin

    I don't know that it's fair to compare this technology (which aims to identify what demographic group you're in) with the world as imagined in Minority Report, which was all about being to track specific individuals. (Something the author admits.)

    Still, it's very easy to see how one (Japanese version) might lead to the other (Minority Report version), but there are important distinctions between the two approaches that we shouldn't gloss over because collecting data to understand high-level trends and general behaviors is incredibly valuable (not just to marketers) but society as a whole.

    (I don't think asking people for permission every time data is collected is realistic because eventually everything around us will be "wired." Instead, we need to come to a shared societal / cultural understanding what's ok and what's not ok.)

    An organization I work with "The Common Data Project" is collecting cases like this one into a series of online polls in an attempt to take a more empirical, ground-up approach to understanding the fine distinctions between different data collection scenarios.

    We'd love to hear what you think!

    March 17, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  24. Ben

    It IS like 1984, only this time, coroporations are watching you as well as the government; I don't think either one watching us is all that great...

    March 18, 2010 at 6:04 am |
  25. neila

    Big Brother IS watching Right Now... And listening TOO

    March 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  26. Maryam

    I just think that Mel and Jason Francis are really funny.

    March 20, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  27. TheSim

    "John March 12th, 2010 219 GMT
    I don't think any advertiser has the right to know my information unless I agree to share it with them. If I am walking in a public place, no one has the right to scan my face. I have a right (in the USA) to privacy."

    You have a right to privacy in a public place? Did you literally just type that? It's a camera that uses a computer to guess your age. Do you plan on suing the man at the carnival who guesses your weight, too?

    March 24, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  28. davonskevort

    seeing advertising customised to me is a good idea. when their big database figures out i dont buy anything i see adversisted i wont see any commercials at all. Only weak minded fools buy whats advertised. Jedi mind tricked suckers. Who are those idiots that buy things from telamarketers anyhow??? i mean who is that absolutly stupid to support that kind of business??? O i forgot HIPPYCRITS (democrats) and rebelicants (republicans) believe everything they are told from their parties, people dont do their own thinking and will do things to others to make them form to their own ideas... both parties would act like the NAZI's if they could. Its a natural evil that lurks in the hearts of men to seek all reasons for godhood which they dont deserve.

    March 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  29. Nigel Biles

    It seems that amazing inventions are always used first in advertisements or the military before any useful applications take place.

    Also, can anyone say Big Brother?

    March 27, 2010 at 5:10 am |
  30. Omar Haleem

    Hmme, i see a security firm looking tnto this to identify ill intent in a person, imagine a technology which is able to telkl wether a person is there for illicit activity or even a suicide bomber getting identified..does away with the need to scan people's body. Imagine if this had been able to identify the assasins that struck in dubai?

    March 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  31. Benjamin


    So if a guy has effeminate face structure, is he going to be faced with tampon and fashion-product ads for his entire life. That's not going to help Japan's suicide rate any, is it?

    April 5, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  32. Diggity Dave

    They already have the PC technology found in the movie. RUUUUUUUUUN!

    April 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  33. Right to Privacy

    They say they are not storing your info in a database somewhere BULL@$%T.

    Big Brother isn't watching anymore he's STARING. This will be used as an invasion of privacy.

    We are so gimmick happy that we are wiling to give up our right to privacy because something looks "cool". Wake up people, with every swipe of your credit card and every move you make on your iphone you are being tracked, analyzed, and profiled and it's all in a nice little database so one day the "precogs" can decide your fate. That's the real reason why they are trying to do away with paper money. Cards are easier to track and banks can float more debt with imaginary electronic currency

    April 16, 2010 at 2:55 am |
  34. Kevin

    I'm curious, how many of the people using Big Brother and 1984 comments have actually read 1984?

    April 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  35. Liliana Kostina

    I have been watching Robyn Curnow's comment on the South African dancer Dada Massilo. I personally think that she is a new Maya Plisetskaya
    of this era.
    as an interviewer she should take care of her hand moves, because it is the voice and the stance that value the interviewer. i think Angeli Rao would be more efective. Of course Dada made well, because the CCN giant image made here to behave accordingly. But she would have had opened herself better as a dancer, if she had been interviewed by a more experienced CCN employer.
    Sincerely, liliana

    October 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  36. amber

    outdoor LCD display show wonderful of Universiade Game
    When the Universiade Game is coming,I saw many outdoor LCD display in street,this outdoor LCD display’s screen played the trailer of Universiade Game、the cooperation of Universiade Game and other commercial advertisement.When played Universiade Game opening ceremony,so many people watched it,all of us cheer for china and round the outdoor LCD display,the outdoor LCD display frames is very clearly and colourful .it was a light rain outside,but the outdoor LCD display also playing the opening ceremony .Raining didn’t influence the outdoor LCD display playing and our good mood.Later all of the street light was bright and the outdoor LCD display always playing colourful and clearly,never influenced by the reflex.All of us jump for joy,and we could see many people watched the outdoor LCD display playing and celebrated from the boite.We are proud of ShenZhen Universiade Game and pride for the outdoor LCD display colourful playing.

    August 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
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    February 23, 2013 at 7:47 am |
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    February 23, 2013 at 7:51 am |

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