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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.

Non-cooperative environments are where facial recognition isn't as widely implemented — at least not successfully - -says Hauhn, given its relatively low efficacy.

"The promise of facial recognition is more of the pick-somebody-out-of-the-crowd scenario," he says. "And that's where it starts to not be as effective."

Hauhn used the example of casinos using facial recognition to keep cheats off their premises. Though he admits that he's not well-versed in the casino security methods, he says that they can likely put for the necessary resources to sift through numerous false positives that are generated and look close to identify their targets. But the "holy grail" is when security teams are at the point where they can simply apply any face the camera picks up, at any angle, to identify the possible bad guys.

"We're just not there yet," he says. "The technology is not that good. It's pretty easy to pull a hat down and have your face not looking at the camera at the right angle to get the right data. With [the systems] that are 2D, you have to have a straight-on view for accuracy." There are some companies, however, that are working on developing facial recognition that operates in a 3D environment. With the use of geographic cameras that use multiple markers, these could increase the likelihood of getting a good scan even when the subject isn't looking at the camera head-on.

Still a ways to go

Facial recognition technology is still very much in its infancy, however. Lorenz says that it has only been within the past three or four years that camera technology has improved enough for facial recognition to be successfully employed.

"A lot of times, what you're finding are the pitfalls of facial matching is getting a good read on the face," says Lorenz. "But with the new HD cameras, increased megapixels, and the amount of data that can be streamed into backends, we really reached a tipping point. Now you can get clearer pictures, better defined faces, and detection becomes better in these scenarios."

While Hauhn agrees with the sentiment that better technology has provided better accuracy, he doesn't believe that facial recognition has proven itself yet his so-called non-cooperative environments. If subjects don't know that facial recognition is being used on them, it's a non-cooperative environment and unfortunately, this is the crux of using it for security purposes in many scenarios like scanning airports for known or suspected terrorists.

"After 9/11, facial recognition and video were supposed to solve all of our problems. Well, that hasn't happened," he says. "There were high profile tests about seven or eight years ago that showed that [the accuracy] hasn't gotten any better."


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