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January 24, 2008

Computer Can Identity Faces With 100% Accuracy

Being a face in the crowd usually confers some type of anonymity, but with technological developments that is changing.  Face recognition software has the power to reduce that anonymity, though getting a computer to match a moving face in a variety of lighting conditions, angles, and with different grooming to a static picture requires enormous computing resources.  Even with optical character recognition, an error rate of 6% per page would be high given the amount of time to correct each of those errors.

It comes with some interest, then, as ABC News describes a study by Rob Jenkins, a professor of psychology at the University of Glasgow that claims to have a system of 100% accuracy in facial recognition by a computer against images in a database.  The underlying process uses an average of facial images as determined with 20 photos.  The averaging washes out the variations and allows a computer to make accurate picks.

Aside from the new levels of accuracy, there are questions that remain of whether deploying surveillance systems such as this are an invasion of privacy.  The notion of privacy in a public place is generally low.  Governments use surveillance cameras all of the time, in high crime areas, at red lights, around certain types of installations, and other locations.  Big Brother isn't exactly hiding behind the bushes.  Does adding a "we know who you are" element change any of that? 

What will really change is the value of a system to identify terrorists or criminal element in the open.  That's where accuracy comes in.  Mistakes may have legal consequences but even these may be minimized when official IDs such a passports and drivers licenses contain RFID chips with enough information that may cross reference identity.  If that sounds scary, consider the REAL ID Act and its implications, the mandated passports containing these chips, and the precedent of cameras in public places.  While governments will always take the high road on statements about protecting privacy, the privacy concerns will not stop a deployment of face recognition software once it hits an accuracy level that is useful to the government.  So smile.  You never know who's looking.

January 24, 2008 | Permalink

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