Sunday, May 26, 2002

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

Was surfing around my usual pages, and come across this news article about Facial Recognition. Very interesting technology. In fact, my company sells digital photo identification systems to Law Enforcement organizations. There is quite a few people worried about the 'Big Brother' aspect of this technology. In fact, I agree with them in principle, but the technology is very inaccurate.

Our senior programmer, in reaction to our competition adding facial recognition to their products, did quite a bit of research into adding it to ours. This programmer is a true wizard, very strong background in mathematics, and I've always found his cognitive and logic skills without equal. He put quite a few hours into trying to create an accurate system, one even better than the current crop of systems. He even developed a mathematical formula that could be used to break a person's features down into a unique number.

Problem is, it wasn't very accurate. In fact it was so bad that he didn't even bother to add it to the main product. Didn't meet his standards of quality. Now before you go saying that maybe his standards are too high, think about the logic of facial recognition. You take a normally clear "mugshot" and compare it to some fuzzy black and white photograph through some crappy convenience store or bank video camera. They don't even come close. OK - Lets say best case scenario, you take a super-high quality high-resolution camera and place it with perfect lighting to catch people as they walk by. The camera even has the ability to instantly focus correctly based on distance to the target. You had better hope that everyone looks at the camera straight on if you want any semblance of accuracy.

Now the media jumps all over this technology as if it is perfected. Well, we all know about how accurate the media is. I mean they are always careful to check their facts and do sufficient research on something before they publish a story, right? Ha. I've still got that bridge to sell you if you believe that. I believe there is one high-profile story in the UK where it has worked, but the problem is its impossible to know how many times it has failed. Since if you can't identify the person, you don't know if they got away. Yet there will be millions spent on this technology by Government, until someone finally admits its just not good enough. Sort of like speech recognition software. In fact, this article speaks about just how bad the technology is. Note that it states that different facial expressions can fool the software.

So, I wouldn't worry about it if I was wanted for a crime, but I don't like the idea of cameras left on and recording the general public's activities. The investment needed and man-hours required for cameras to provide real security is huge compared to the results you will get. Usually its lazy Law Enforcement practices that let the bad guys get away with what they are doing. I should know, being a former Police Officer myself. To get really controversial, the big hoopla about racial profiling going on now doesn't help either. Oh boy, now I'm going to be labeled as a racial bigot and intolerant, yet this is the farthest thing from the truth when it comes to a person's national origin. To me, actions and other non-racial indicators are more accurate and effective in determining criminal intent.

Anyway, I don't want some bureaucrat or politician using my or anyone else's private actions as something to hold over our heads. We have little enough privacy as it is. This just makes it even more intolerable.