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SceneTap and Bar Profiling in Chicago

A new app uses facial-recognition technology to tell you the age and gender mix of bar patrons in specific Chicago watering holes, and whether or not they’re “chill,” “social,” “hoppin,” or “crazy.” TMI? Not enough.

Via @ourmaninchicago and @scottkleinberg, the New York Times has a good piece on the commercial use of face-recognition technology:

But what if the next generation of mall billboards… detect sadness and serve up an ad for antidepressants?

A) Thanks, I’m taken care of. B) I’m not sad, this is just how I look. It’s irritating enough having strangers ask if I’m okay, I don’t need billboards demonstrating their concern.

On the other hand, if the ads detect that I’m mopey and bring me a Maru video sponsored by so-and-so, then we’re talking customer service.

Both surprisingly and not, one of the applications (update: use of facial detection, not recognition, depending on your terminology) is in our great bar town: SceneTap, which—I am not making this up—scans the faces of patrons to determine their gender and age, “helping bar-hoppers decide where to go.” For instance, here’s what it tells me about the scene at Duffy’s Tavern at 1:15 pm on a Tuesday:

Duffy's Tavern

So mostly dudes, which may or may not be what you want on a Tuesday afternoon.

Already people on my Twitter feed are passing around the list of venues as if SceneTap is a reason to avoid them. I understand their concern; in a city that’s building a public-private network of cameras, civil liberties are an ongoing issue in these parts. And there’s the somewhat unsettling idea that your bar is profiling you (aside from the bars that already do this, but the fact that it’s doormen doing it reduces the ick factor a bit).

I don’t see why we have to fear our glorious technological barhopping future. My issue is that it isn’t nearly fully featured enough; SceneTap is utterly primitive. There’s no historical data, and it just gives me an average, forget median or distribution, so I can’t tell if a particular bar is an old-man bar, a Viagra bar, a dudebro bar, or what. Without going there, at least. It only profiles face and age, not clothes, so there’s no way to know if I’m hopelessly underdressed. Surely technology that can read gender and age can also judge the washes on pairs of jeans and the composition of a patron’s shoes. Lots of square-toed men’s shoes in shiny leather? Not for me tonight, with what with my old Carhartt hoodie, sneakers, and Mr. Rogers sweater.

And there are so many opportunities for extensibility with this technology. Just hooking it up to Shazam, the handy little app that allows your phone to detect what music is playing, would generate a jukebox history—rich information for barhoppers. Decibel levels would obviously be a boon. And there’s no reason to stop at two senses: cologne/perfume air density (measured in parts per million) would be a much more valuable indicator for some of us than age. Foursquare integration could build a foundation for a Genius-like bar recommendation system, and from there it’s a short leap to integrating Twitter and RSS feeds to indicate the interests of bar patrons. And don’t even get me started on Fusion Tables (with full raw-data dumps) and puffer technology: we will have full bar-scene transparency, someday.

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