There is a lot of debate over here at the moment about infringements of personal liberty : should we introduce curfews, ban social media during times of trouble, have more or fewer surveillance cameras? - that kind of thing. The dust is still settling after the recent riots and all sorts of theories about causes and responses are doing the rounds. Personally, I have never quite understood the position whereby denying someone a job is merely the inevitable workings of the market system whilst having a video camera on a street corner is a fundamental attack on democracy. Nor have I understood why the social media can be a tool for liberation in Arab Spring countries whilst it is a nothing less than the progeny of the devil in Hackney or Birmingham.
However, I am not here to discuss the riots, freedom or whether Facebook is better than Twitter (although, for the first time in my life I did discover a use for Twitter as it warned me when to stay clear of the local ASDA which came under attack during the riots). I am here because my friend Janie told me I had a good idea the other day. I can still recall the time, many decades ago, when I would have a good idea on a regular basis - maybe one or two a month - but now they are as rare as a Daily Mail reader with a social conscience. So I thought I would share it with you.
Like many other people I use Picasa 3 to file my various images and one of the nice features of Picasa is the built-in facial recognition software. Identify a picture of your wife, your brother or your Auntie Doris once, and the software will search through your files for other similar faces using the usual approach of key facial measurements. The drawback to this approach is that you have to identify a face first and that it is restricted to just your images. My idea was to introduce a worldwide database of the unknown dead so that we could try and identify some of the unknown faces of long-dead relatives and friends.
Go back and look at the image above. This is UF2011ABF0001A : a picture of a woman from my collection of old Victorian photographs. I haven't the foggiest who she is, but she is a very special person, a person who will go down in the annals of the twenty-first century : she is the very first entry in the worldwide database of the unknown dead (WDUD). All you need to do is to download the image and add it to your Picasa folder, do a facial recognition sweep and see if you get any suggestions. If not, simply identify it as UF2011ABF0001A and wait for the next face to come winging its way to you. If you do get a hit and it turns out to be your great-aunt Constance, let us here at WDUD HQ know (remembering to enclose a cheque for $10 for administrative expenses) and her details will be added to the database. Talk about a good idea : sometimes I think I was born before my time.