Biometrics to catch virtual criminals?
Facial recognition and biometrics are still not ubiquitous tools in the physical security world, but that hasn't stopped scientists from turning their attention to developing biometric technology to identify avatars in the virtual worlds of video games.
During a session titled "Face recognition in the virtual world: recognizing avatar faces" at the upcoming Defense, Security and Sensing conference (April 23-27 in Baltimore), a team of researchers will present "a set of algorithms capable of verification and recognition of avatar faces with high degree of accuracy," according to the paper's abstract. The impetus of their work, according to the abstract, is the rise of criminal activity in these virtual worlds that people are spending increasing amounts of time inside.
Some of these virtual worlds are already very well developed, and well known. Second Life, perhaps the most well known of these virtual worlds/video games, created its first real-world millionaire back in 2006. And law enforcement is already trying to deal with the implications of this new paradigm. Japanese police arrested a person way back in 2005 who controlled an avatar in an online video game that mugged other players, stole their virtual possessions and then fenced those virtual possessions through an online auction site for real-world cash, according to New Scientist. The FBI has also reportedly visited Second Life to scope out virtual casinos that make at least $1,500 a month in real-world profits.
All that is to say, there is real money being made and lost in these virtual worlds. And where money is in play, crime is sure to follow. Which brings us back to the question of how to identify and track down criminals who are causing mischief in these virtual worlds.
New Scientist spoke with Roman Yampolskiy, a computer scientist at the Cyber-Security Lab at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and a member of the team working on the facial recognition of avatars. Yampolskiy and his colleagues are pioneers in the field of artificial biometrics, or "artimetrics," which are designed to "authenticate and identify non-biological agents such as avatars, physical robots or even chatbots," according to New Scientist. Raytheon also reportedly has a patent pending for a technology that would fuse a person's real biometrics with their 3D avatar, New Scientist reports.
When it comes to games like Second Life, each character is identified by a username, which is tied to a real human user, so is easy to track down potential troublemakers. But Yampolskiy is more worried about the future, as these virtual worlds become not run by a single company, but decentralize and run on peer-to-peer networks.
How facial recognition technology can be used to identify an avatar if that avatar's human owner can change its appearance is beyond me. In fact, not everyone thinks artimetrics is a useful line of study. Tony Mansfield, a biometrics specialist at the UK's National Physical Laboratory in London, told New Scientist that virtual worlds will likely never become completely decentralized. "This should be as easy as identifying a barcode, rather than as hard as biometrics," he said.