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Facial recognition: the new makeover of the selfie in 2016

President Barack Obama poses for a selfie with Bill Nye, left, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the Blue Room prior to the White House Student Film Festival, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
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The art of the selfie, the smartphone trend that has rocked the internet, until now has been limited to the physical contortions required to snap a flattering angle.

Admit it, you’ve done it too, snapping your face and sending it off into the social stratosphere has a pretty addictive quality. But the selfie we all know and love so dearly is about to get a major makeover – redefining itself with new abstract forms of expression, and gaining new recognition as a serious tool for business intelligence, that will have a real economic impact.

The selfie phenomenon is already huge. Google says over 93 million are taken every day. President Obama takes selfies, the Pope takes selfies. The internet exploded at the sight of Pope Francis’ glorious first selfie. That blessed grin – though technically not a selfie, and actually not his first – drove over 9,000 likes within hours and we loved it.

In 2016 the selfie will get a serious promotion; it will become our digital fingerprint, unlocking weird and wonderful capabilities, and eclipsing the duck face of today. So, what might this look like?

New forms of expression

What is it about the selfie that keeps us all glued to our smartphones with such force? Do we really enjoy playing with our faces all that much? The reality is yes, people can be creative with a selfie, and as technology advances there are so many more ways for us to filter and share our most flattering angles. Today, gifs layered with colorful visuals mean you can augment your world and create something unique.

Short video takes this to another level – it is quick, easy and our trigger fingers just can’t say no to that play button. A video can paint a thousand words, through adding movement and sound we can share so much more. By 2019 80 percent of the web will be video – no longer just a tool for Vine’s social influencers or YouTube’s rising stars.

As apps like Instagram and Snapchat move into TV with their own short-form video series, the inevitable next stage will be that users will also begin to record their own episodes. Soon everyone will be able to connect through moving picture – changing the role of traditional TV viewing in our lives. America’s favorite pastime, get ready to be replaced.

And it doesn’t stop there, video is evolving into live streaming and 360 formats, and new gadgets mean that virtual reality is becoming a mainstream commodity. All this creates a canvas for the fantastical. This could even mean using 3D technologies to scan and print a timeless replicate of our online avatars. Imagine, duck face immortalized for all time.

The new ‘selfie economy’

The social side of a selfie has a viral quality that keeps us hooked, the human face naturally grabs our attention, and this is candy for marketers. People exhibit stronger reactions to photos that include faces, and they respond with increased online interactions. This means your face today has some serious dollar attached to it as the biggest brands jump on board, ready to brand your pictures, and investing serious amounts of cash in the process.

Snapchat has cottoned on to this. The social app launched its sponsored lenses in late 2015, providing branded filters for users to enhance their pictures. Fox Studios was the first advertiser to trial this with its promotion for the release of Charlie Brown’s ‘The Peanuts Movie.’ Anyone who opted for the lenses instantly had their screen filled with Snoopy and Woodstock, dancing on their heads, jumping for joy and filling their mouths with junk food. Snapchat says this feature means its users can get creative – vomiting rainbows and blowing steam out of your ears is just one way – and they charge advertisers thousands of dollars for opportunity to brand your face.

The rise of the ‘selfie economy’ means companies like Apple, Nike and Philips will also pay the producers of this creative content. Think of the YouTube social influencers of today, layer that with graphics, turn it into a gif, and add the value of commerce and huge reach. A selfie never looked so good.

Through sharing these images on social media platforms, the potential of a viral campaign driving organic spread for a brand is also a huge temptation for advertisers. Uploading selfies onto sites like Facebook wraps the image in demographic and browsing data. Anyone that interacts with the ad also shares their own online behavioural information, turning the selfie into an instrument of great intelligence, with the potential to provide great value in more serious domains.

The selfie gets a promotion

A selfie is no longer a novelty, it has matured and now has a serious job in the adult world. The sheer amount of information it contains, combined with the growing abundance of selfies shared online mean these pictures are viable tool for law enforcement authorities. They are no longer just a fad, organizations understand the true power of the selfie.

A rise in selfies has reportedly made life easier for the NSA, using facial recognition algorithms to mine social media tagged photos to track intelligence targets. This form of identification is also being used to aid mountain rescue and missing person’s searches. Croatian Mountain Rescue Service is using the collaboration of facial recognition capabilities and drone technology to save lives.

This type of technology will also very soon change the way we pay online. Mastercard is currently trialling facial recognition technology that allows shoppers to authorize payments using their smartphones with a selfie. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are smarter than this technology; it knows you, and it is not tricked by any user that holds up a picture of another.

All of this will make today’s innocent selfie look like a relic of the past; an antique portrait to tomorrow’s avant-guard selfie movement.

In the not too distant future your profile picture could well be a hologram augmented with your own chosen reality, narrating a story through visual effects and sensory technologies. You could pay for your morning coffee with your bank’s facial recognition technology on your cellphone, and share your latte pic with Starbucks branding for a free coffee the next day.

And as the drones fly overhead, you may well laugh at the memory of the Pope’s first selfie, and the naivete and simplicity of days gone by.

Yash Kotak is the Founder of Znapin, a visual social network that lets users express themselves and voice opinions via selfies and videos.

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