Monday, October 5, 2009

Facial Recognition Ability is Completely Useless

For years I have wondered if there is any real use for the ability to recognize faces. This article from Harvard Magazine sheds some light on how this ability functions in people's brains, and the mildly bizarre situations people who have this ability often find themselves in, but does not really offer much in terms of suggesting how this skill should be used.

While holiday shopping with my brother (December 2008) at the CambridgeSide Galleria, I spotted one Chris L. (last name withheld) who I had not seen in 18 years and barely knew back then. I pointed him out to my brother since he had attended the same computer camp that I recognized this kid from. He immediately denied that it could possibly the same kid, so I suggested he ask him, so he walks over to the guy, says "Are you Chris (last name withheld)?" and he responds "Yes" with a look of surprise on his face. In this situation I found myself living one of the exact scenarios described in the HM article, since I would be willing to bet that Chris could not have identified either one of us if his life depended on it. And once again I was left asking, is there any possible use for this ability? To date, the answer appears to be "no".

Recently I took 2 facial recognition tests online. The first one was done in two sections, you look at a group of photographs of people, take a 5 mintue break, then look at a second group, 5 mintue break, and move to Part 1 of the test which involves identifying which photographs you had seen in either of the two groups, and which you had not, in a new group. In this section of the test I scored 100%. In the second section of the test, identifying which photos came from the first group and which from the second, I scored 83%. Impressive scores? Yes, but scores which display an ability that is completely useless.

The second test involved looking at a group of six very similar male faces and then seeing if you can pick out which one is one you've seen out of a group of 3. The groups of 3 faces are shown at quick intervals, and all of the faces look very similar. On this test, I scored 99%, identifying 71 out of 72 faces. I have since developed an Obsessive-Compulsive psychosis which stemmed from the fact that I came as close as possible to getting 72 out of 72 without scoring 100% on the test. I failed to do the test perfectly, and it haunts me. As does the fact that, as I've mentioned, this ability seems to be completely useless.

1 comment:

  1. At Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001, police in Tampa Bay, Florida, used Identix’ facial recognition software, FaceIt, to search for potential criminals and terrorists in attendance at the event.[2] (it found 19 people with pending arrest warrants)