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Why facial recognition isn't the way of the future...yet

Grant Hatchimonji | April 29, 2014
It's the how the future is meant to be, isn't it? The good guys need to find a bad guy in a crowd of people, so they start scanning the environment with a camera that is equipped with facial recognition technology. Seconds later, they scan a face that's a positive match with an entry in their criminal database and bam, they've smoked him out.

But in the cooperative environments, like booking someone at a police station, Hauhn says that facial recognition works very well.

"Being able to scan someone's face across a whole database of people works pretty well," he says. "If you do fingerprints, they're not nearly as fast in the environment. But again, it's forced cooperation."

Again, though, as Hauhn points out, the promise of facial recognition is being able to work in a non-cooperative environment too. And in that sense, both Hauhn and Lorenz believe that it still has a way to go.

"If you look at where facial recognition is on the scale of accuracy of biometrics, it is one of the less accurate ones compared to, say, fingerprint biometrics, which is way up into the 99 percentile," says Lorenz. "Facial recognition is a little bit less accurate in that regard. It has additional dependences, like being able to capture a good face in low light, or if the face is pointing at the camera at an angle."

Lorenz adds that the efficacy also depends on the technology behind systems, like the type of matching engines that are on the backend side of things. Like Hauhn, Lorenz finds that the typical 2D nature of facial recognition is both limited and easy to fool, making 3D systems more appealing for accuracy and overcoming limitations like the viewing angle.

Ultimately, there's a lot of room for growth. But as facial recognition becomes more advanced and increasingly accurate, we can expect to see it used in more scenarios and for different purposes.

"I think there is a tremendous amount of room for growth in the cooperative environment," says Hauhn. "Like hands-free card access: you could walk up to a door and have it recognize you and open up, or even be able to tell if a second person tailgated you through the door. Or bank transactions. I think a person would want to use their face to make sure it was them accessing their money and not somebody else."

Lorenz shared similar sentiments, saying that as the technology grows, cameras that have already been deployed in major cities will gradually become upgraded and embedded with facial recognition. While Hauhn agrees, he adds that the current (comparative) lack of deployment is also a matter of cost.

Big Brother is watching you

Another major issue with facial recognition beyond accuracy is that of privacy. In order to be effective, the technology usually requires either storing the scanned visage in a backend database, or checking it against a face that is already there.

"You think about cameras that are constantly capturing faces and identifying who those faces are...yeah, there are privacy concerns there," says Hauhn. "But you're going to get into the traditional argument over all privacy issues: what's a reasonable expectation of privacy?"

 

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