On September 12, Apple opened the Steve Jobs Theater on their new campus in Cupertino with an announcement of new hardware. There was the new Apple Watch 3, Apple TV-4K, and two new iPhones.
Outside of the tech press, everyone is focused on the iPhone X, “X” for the Roman numeral 10, a marvel of engineering but will cost $1,000. Breaking that $1,000 barrier is a big thing because it makes the iPhone X the most expensive smartphone on the market.
But I see another story that can be more important to a lot of other markets than the price of the device. It is the technology that can be industry altering.
Both the iPhone 8 and iPhone X have dual-lens cameras that are designed to enhance the use of photography. The new cameras have larger sensors that pick up more pixels of information with a processor that can better process the image.
It is the image processing and the iPhone’s ability to use the detailed images to map the terrain, textures, and to use augmented reality (AR) to enhance what the camera sees.
An area where this technology can help numismatics is with computer-based grading.
Computer-based grading was first tried in 1991 using the technology of the day. While it was a good start, the technology was just not ready for the ability to grade coins.
Apple proved that the technology is ready to try again.
Human-based grading has led to an environment of mistrust amongst the grading services. It is the failure of humans to be consistent in grading that leads to religious-like arguments as to which grading service is better. These failures have led the creation of verification services to check up on the ability of grading services to do their job.
The ability for the imaging process to visualize and analyze thousands of polygons on an image, the way imaging technology visualizes the three-dimensional surface, in such a way to allow for real-time expression processing and rendering can be used to assess the surface of a coin.
Another problem that can be resolved is the crack out game. Some people will crack coins out of their slabs to submit them to the grading services multiple times to play on the failure of humans to be consistent to try to have the coins graded higher. The information created based on the surface analysis of the coin will result in digital data that should be unique to each coin. Minute scratches and other environmental factors can help distinguish one coin from another in the same manner that there are subtle differences that can detect on identical twin from another.
Creating a digital signature for each coin will help prevent theft or help law enforcement use the information to track stolen items.
Imaging analysis can look at the surface to find alterations like the use of a chemical that would change the surface. Rather than using the “sniffing” technology that Professional Coin Grading Service has pioneered to find chemical additives, a surface analysis can detect chemical-based alterations to the surface.
Altered surface detection can also be used to detect unnatural toning. It will require teaching the imaging systems to detect the differences between natural and unnatural toning, but the long-term benefits to the hobby will be tremendous.Aside from grading consistency and the ability detect altered surface, it is possible to expand current technologies that will help detect the use of plated or other metal counterfeits. Devices that are able to visualize a few microns under the surface of the coin to detect the metal content along with the new visualization technologies will make it more difficult to pass counterfeit coins.
In the short term, this will not put the third-party grading services out of business but it will change their business. They will not be grading and regrading coins. The computer will analyze the coin, provide the owner with a report, and that report will be consistent regardless of the imaging process used. Otherwise, the coin was altered and you would know about it.Eventually, this could eliminate the plastic slab that has been counterfeited. The coin itself becomes its own identifier and reduces the reliance on the slab.
This technology will eliminate the verification services. There will no need for a human to verify the human-based grading. After all, the fourth-party verification process is artificially driving up the costs of collector coins because of blind trust placed in humans verifying humans.
Although I spent nearly all of my adult life in the technology industry, I am not for technology completely taking over all aspects of our lives. There is a level of trust in the hardware and software that must be earned to have me feel comfortable with things like self-driving cars or even maintaining personal information (see the recent Equifax breach).
However, I am for the use of technology where it can solve a problem. Technology can solve the problem of inconsistent grading. Technology can solve the problem of coin identification. Technology can solve the problems with counterfeiting. Why not use technology to increase the trust in the numismatic market by fixing these problems?
It is now time that technology was put to use in the numismatic and collecting industries in order to create a level of assurance for the collector that their item is genuine and the condition is what the collectible is being represented as.
- iPhone X image courtesy of Apple.
- Niton scanner image by the author.
- Counterfiet PCGS slabs courtesy of PCGS