Apple’s newest innovation – Facial Recognition

Laura Bowles

“Pay with your face.” As threatening and sinister as this may sound, this isn’t a line from the new chapter of dystopian series Black Mirror. It’s a tagline for Apple’s newest technological innovation – the £999 iPhone X and its ‘Face ID’ feature. Apple’s approach to marketing seems to focus heavily on their development in facial recognition software. I’m quite attached to my face, in more ways than one, so this set off some alarm bells in the tin-hat conspiracy theorist deep inside me. Despite this, the scientist in me is more prominent, so I decided to give Apple the benefit of the doubt and get some questions answered. How does the technology work? If it doesn’t work as Apple promises, what will this mean for user security? Should we be worried about what information that organisations – legal or criminal – may be able to glean with this software? Is it even worth it?

 

It’s clear why Apple felt the need to give facial recognition a serious update. So far, it has been notoriously easy to trick. Nguyen Minh Duc, manager of the application security department at Hanoi University of Technology, succeeded in tricking Lenovo, Asus and Toshiba laptops with a photograph of the user. Alibaba (‘China’s answer to Amazon’) attempted to solve this problem when developing a service that allows customers to verify purchases by looking into their phone camera. The payment would only be accepted if the software could detect the user blinking. However, the average person could simply use a video of themselves blinking instead of a photo and manage to successfully deceive the system.

 

So, how does Apple believe it has achieved its “revolution in recognition?” They released a document to inform the consumer on their Face ID security in September 2017. When you want to unlock your phone, instead of comparing what the camera detects with a normal colour image, the iPhone camera uses infrared dots to create a sequence of 3D maps of depth and 2D infrared images (think heat-sensing photography). Because the technology uses light that isn’t in the visible spectrum of wavelengths, Face ID even works when the user is wearing sunglasses or in darkness. The camera then randomizes this data and creates a pattern that is specific to each device. This is then transformed into a string of code that allows your face to be recognised over a variety of expressions and poses, supposedly without being able to be tricked by photos, videos or even 3D face replicas.

Facial_Recognition_(5883951201)

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This can all be done using a piece of computer software called a biometric ‘artificial neural network,’ called biometric because it is inspired by biological brains. In a similar way to how the human mind might develop, a neural network ‘learns’ by experiencing examples to get closer to a desired result using a complex system of computer cells. Apple took infrared images and depth maps of thousands of people of different genders, ages and backgrounds, so their neural network would function for a diverse range of customers.

 

This all sounds very convincing, but if the saved data is such a close representation of my appearance, I would want to make certain that only the right people have access to it. In 2013, Apple changed the way that their iPhones were kept secure, using a processor chip called the Secure Enclave – a physical piece of biometric hardware for your data. It’s not interwoven with the software you use every day, as this is more vulnerable to infiltration. The string of code that allows Face ID to recognise your face is kept in this chip and isn’t sent to an external server for Apple or otherwise to access. The chip is not only well-encrypted (protected), but the images that are initially taken of your face are cropped, minimizing the amount of background information that is stored. This means that strangers won’t be able to find out where you live by seeing your road name in the corner of an image, and you won’t get targeted advertising from the stack of Domino’s boxes in the corner of your room. If someone can get a hold of your phone, they may be able to hack it remotely, but this may be unlikely due to Apple’s level of encryption.

 

Face ID isn’t the only feature that has been found to be controversial. The iPhone X is the first iPhone to not have a home button, meaning that Face ID will effectively replace Touch ID (uses fingerprint instead of facial recognition). In terms of security, it looks like Face ID comes out on top. The chances of someone else unlocking your phone with Touch ID are one in 50,000, but with Face ID it’s one in a million. But is this level of security even necessary, especially at the expense of convenience? Apple claims that it makes using their products a more natural experience, but the iPhone X requires the user to fully look at and engage with their device, whereas most of the time a quick tap of a finger to check the time would be sufficient. Considering the price tag and the resources, Face ID doesn’t seem justifiable for some animated emojis.

 

Face ID definitely isn’t a major security threat at the moment. However, there may be a few things to keep an eye on for the future. Apple will allow third parties to use the software for their own apps, so always check app permissions, even if you think you’re in the know. In the future, this biometric, infrared face recognition may be used immorally, but that comes with the territory when developing any new piece of technology. Although Apple may be known for manipulating consumers into a cult following, they are also known for their thorough approach to security. So, no real life Black Mirror just yet.

What happens if you drink bleach?

James Vines

Before we begin, if you suspect someone has ingested a large quantity of bleach, this article does not contain the medical advice you need to help them. It does however contain a list of unfortunate consequences that will befall them should you not seek said medical advice immediately. A good place to find the lifesaving information they so desperately need is by phoning the emergency services.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about bleach. For most of us, bleach is used as a household cleaner. It is used for disinfecting toilets, drains and other smelly areas, due to its antimicrobial properties. Most bleaches used as household cleaners are chlorine based, and contain the active compound hypochlorous acid. A 2008 study shows that hypochlorous acid can cause proteins to unfold and clump together. Unfolding and clumping of proteins within a microbe will cause a loss protein functionality.

Consequently, the microbe will stop growing. Hypochlorous acid is also a chemical oxidiser, which strips electrons from anything it touches. This property is what makes
bleach corrosive to organic substances, and further aides with its antimicrobial activity.

800px-Kitchen_bleach

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other than cleaning, bleach is also used for another purpose. Bleaching things! Bleaches can be used to remove pigments from fabrics, hair, and…other places. Chlorine based bleaches perform this action by breaking chemical bonds in chromophores, meaning they no longer absorb visible light.

A final place you may have may have encountered bleach is on the internet. Here, you may have seen the phase “drink bleach” banded around by certain nefarious individuals. According to KnowYourMeme.com, the phase originates from way back in 2001. However, it was not until recently the phase gained ‘popularity’, due to its spread amount certain YouTube prank videos.

Meme’s aside, if you did happen to drink a large quantity of bleach, you’d be in a bit of a mess. Upon ingestion: feelings of pain, irritation and nausea are highly likely. The pain is the consequence of burns to the linings of the stomach and oesophagus. The longer the bleach sits in your stomach, the worse the burns will get, as the active compound has more time to oxidises its way through your gut.

Additionally, toxic chlorine gas can be formed in the stomach due to reactivity of hypochlorite with acid. Chlorine gas is an irritant which attacks the body’s mucous membranes and will cause burns within its own right. Breathing in chlorine gas is extremely fatal. Furthermore, your body will be faced with a sudden rise in sodium levels, due to the high sodium content of the bleach. This leads to a condition called hypernatremia, which can lead to circulatory and neuronal problems. After a relatively short amount of time, permanent and debilitating damage to the gut will have occurred,
and without medical treatment this will lead to a slow and painful death.

If you have ingested bleach, and seek medical advice, you will probably be told to drink a large amount of water to attempt to dilute the bleach while it sits in your stomach. It is not recommended to induce vomiting however, as this will re-expose the oesophagus, throat and mouth to the bleach. If you make it so far as a hospital you will most likely have your stomach pumped. Depending on damage to your digestive system you may have to have a esophagectomy and colon interposition performed, which involves attaching part of your small intestine to your throat. Unfortunately, this bypasses your chronically damaged stomach, consequently, you’ll have to eat through a straw for the rest of your life. On a slightly more positive note, these steps are normally effective; and most people admitted to hospital because of poisoning will survive.

Although chlorine based bleaches make up the majority of those commercially available, other kinds do exist. Peroxide bleaches are commonly used to bleach hair. Their activity is conferred through an oxygen-oxygen single bond, which can break to yield a highly reactive oxygen species. Peracetic acids and ozone are also used as a bleach in paper manufacturing, and bromates are used to bleach flour and other food products.

Wait, food products?! Yes, despite all the gruesome warnings described above, low concentrations of bleach can actually be used to protect us, not harm us. In fact, if a natural disaster has occurs, and clean drinking water cannot be found, bleach can be used to sterilise it. In these situations, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adding 0.75ml of common household bleach to every gallon of water. As long as the concentration is low enough, bleach will just kill microbes and not us. In fact, most experts agree, that drinking a small cup of bleach straight from the container would only give you a bad stomach upset and probably wouldn’t kill you. This is because
household bleach only contains around 3% Sodium Hypochlorite. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend following the advice of internet trolls, and ask for a pint of bleach next time you’re down the pub. However, if you’ve got a dirty toilet, some hair that’s too dark, or
some water that seems a bit sketchy, bleach might be your answer! Just make sure you get it to the right concentration!

Why do we have different skin tones?

Emily Farrell

Around 6 million years ago, human like apes started walking on two legs. Hot under the
African sun they lost their hairy bodies, but started to burn. Only those with darker
pigmentation in their skin could continue to roam comfortably in the midday sun.

An excess of UV can not only burn and cause melanomas, but will also strip the body of folic
acid. This is essential for foetus development and this susceptibility could be a main factor in
driving natural selection towards darker skin.

Six million years later, humans living across the equator, where the sun is strongest, retain
this dark layer of protection against the sun’s UV. But the skin doesn’t block it all. It needs to
absorb a certain amount to convert into Vitamin D. This is used in processing calcium for
bone growth and maintenance, a lack of which can cause disorders such as rickets.

When humans migrated north, the sun disappeared. As well as being cold, rainy and sad, it
was harder to absorb the amount of UV needed when there was well evolved protection in
the way. Lower amounts of melanin in skin spread through the sun deprived population and
UV was now more easily absorbed. The further north, the less sun was available, the less
pigmentation people needed and the lighter the average skin tone became, until Northern
Europe where the palest skin is found.

A new diet rich in cereals from agricultural societies which were low in vitamin D
concentration, as opposed to a diet largely consisting of hunted meat; common amongst
sub Saharan African diets in the Palaeolithic, further exasperated this condition.

One exception to this are the communities in Northern Canada and Alaska. While in very
weak sunshine for most of the year, they retain darker skin due to the food they consume. A
diet high in seal and other marine sources, it contains all the Vitamin D they need. They do
not need to absorb UV, so their melanin composition does not matter. Instead, evolution
has focussed on creating a protective barrier against the harmful effects.

Interestingly, women are often paler than their male counterparts. Women need more
Vitamin D for pregnancy and lactation and are more at risk of osteoporosis in old age than
men. The cost of the dangers of UV are outweighed by this need to produce milk while
retaining enough nutrients to support their own body.

Albinism results in no pigmentation at all, including the hair and eyes. It is caused by a
recessive allele and creates an “all or nothing” response, as opposed the sliding scale of skin
pigmentation usually seen. It affects 1 in 5000 in sub-Saharan Africa and 1 in 20,000 in
Europe and North America and it varies between other countries too.

However, globalisation means people are no longer confined to the areas their ancestors
lived in. Short term precautions can render thousands of years of adaptations redundant.
Sunscreen can protect almost as well as extra melanin when properly applied. Vitamin D is
not naturally found in common food items, but now it is artificially added to cereals, soy
milk and other products. There is no reason for different skin tones in the modern world,
other than a way to express our heritage.