It was a memorable moment in Pixar’s 2004 classic “The Incredibles,” one that seemed wildly futuristic at the time: Mr. Incredible picks up a wafer-thin tablet computer, and it scans his face to verify his identity before divulging his secret mission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember watching ‘Minority Report’ way back in 2007 and thinking that the reality presented there was decades away? As it turns out, that reality was only one decade away. Not only has technology caught up with that movie, it is easily breezing past it. What’s coming will take your breath away.

Thirteen years later, many slim phones and tablets unlock with the press of a thumb—and just this sort of mobile facial scanning is on the way.

Forget fiddling with passwords or even fingerprints; forget multiple layers of sign-in; forget credit cards and, eventually, even physical keys to our homes and cars. A handful of laptops and mobile devices can now read facial features, and the technique is about to get a boost from specialized hardware small enough to fit into our phones.

Using our faces to unlock things could soon become routine, rather than the purview of spies and superheroes.

Qualcomm Inc., QCOM -0.67% an industry leader in mobile device chips, recently introduced its Spectra imaging system, which can extract depth information from objects including faces. The company plans to include the technology in a forthcoming generation of its flagship Snapdragon mobile processors. Meanwhile, when firmware forApple Inc.’s forthcoming HomePod speaker leaked online, developers spotted cluessuggesting that an upcoming iPhone might have similar depth perception and facial recognition.

This technology is different from, but related to, the facial recognition increasingly built into security cameras around the world, which cross-references pictures of your face against databases of millions. That tech is growing in capability and in use—especially in China, where its applications range from surveillance to payments.

Fortunately, your phone’s camera has a few advantages over surveillance equipment. It doesn’t need to spot you in a crowd. It just needs to distinguish one face—yours—and it can do that very well, since you’re not some shadowy figure captured in bad light. From a foot or two away, your phone can quickly capture a detailed image.

There’s another advantage. Depth-sensing technology, generally called “structured light,” sprays thousands of tiny infrared dots across a person’s face or any other target. source



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