Open Gait

If You Are How You Walk,
We May Be Watching You

‘Tis is the season for zombies, those ghouls born out of the desperate imagination of Caribbean tribes about to be enslaved by even worse demons, 17th century European human traders.
But if the overkill of the prefab undead by the contemporary entertainment industry is not enough to make you sick silly, you may still think that the way they walk is kind of funny.
Well, brace yourself, for there are other fears to be had that no walker can instill on you: the dread that your own gait may unwittingly reveal something very dirty about yourself.
Using a system called Plantar Pressure Imaging, a Japan’s Shinshu University international team of bioengineers has developed a way to relate how one walks with personality traits.
The study used thousands of sensors to analyze foot pressure patterns of 104 subjects, and algorithms afterwards, to sift through the voluminous data.
Despite its small scale, the research showed great potential for identifying individuals, with a 99.6 percent accuracy rate.
The slightly scary component of the study, of course, is not what it has already proved: that each individual’s gait is unique and can be identified, given a set of parameters.
It’s in its implications. After being published on the Journal of Royal Society Interface, many saw the possibility of using its methodology to identify people going through airport checkpoints, for example.

Although the research’s findings may open the door to beneficial medical applications such as health diagnosis and others, it’s in law enforcement that it may get the funding for its further development.
Imagine someone with a record being matched with a certain pattern of walking. That could give security details the excuse they need to profile the person, regardless of whether there was any crime committed.
We won’t get into any alarmist parallels here with Eugenics and other unfortunate scientific researches of the past, that were used to support dangerous racist theories.
A vital component of any healthy scientific research, of course, is that there should be no restrain on where it may lead.
It’s what shady, unscrupulous individuals do with it that may be way scarier than any heavy make up, simulating rotten flesh, will ever be.
So this may be a time of unbound religious fundamentalism, and political intolerance. An era of great social injustice and of unrestrained accumulation of wealthy by a precious few.
But it may be also the moment when we can restore science to its moral balance and sense of purpose for the betterment of humankind.
The worth of the Pressure Imagining system not withstanding, we hope so much dedicated effort won’t be reduced to its ability to profiling some to the advantage of others.
Why are we talking about all that at this time? What, aren’t they showing corpses eating human flesh on prime time? Oh, that’s right, it’s all make believe, silly us.

* All screen-grabs are from Chris Russell’s ‘Zombie in a Penguin Suit.’

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