Living with Technology / Facial recognition fascinates and surprises
I have been fascinated by facial recognition. The fact that computer algorithms can scan through a digitized file of millions of 1s and 0s and match anything to anything is sheer magic.
Google provided my first exposure to facial recognition with a photo management tool that has now become part of Google Photos (photos.google.com) available to everyone with a Gmail account.
If you upload your photos to photos.google.com, Google will start identifying the people in your photos. You have to assign them a name, but Google will identify the same person across the photos you upload.
What’s amazing is that it will identify people from infants to senior citizens. If, for example, I have photos of my sister Terri as a young girl to current day, Google is remarkably good at identifying her not only as a two-year-old, but also as a senior citizen.
Of course, Google has all the computing horsepower in the world, so it makes sense that they would be able to do facial recognition.
But I was surprised when, earlier this summer, my son’s YMCA camp sent me an offer for camp photos. This happens every year. The YMCA has an outside photo service that receives photos from camp on a regular basis. The parents are able to log in and look through the photos to find their son or daughter and then order photos, mouse pads, mugs and other items.
This year was different.
This year, for only $24.95, if I gave the photo company a picture of my son, they would use facial recognition on all of the uploaded photos to let me know when a picture of my son was posted! This helps me find just the photos I’m interested in — those with my son in them.
This means that large facial recognition software is now available to just about anyone. Research indicated that there are companies and services that will let just about any software developer to incorporate the power of facial recognition into their products for very little money.
In discussing this technology with some friends and how accurate it was, they reminded me that when it comes to a small population of images, such as I have with the personal photos I take or even the number of campers at a YMCA camp, this becomes much more difficult when elevated to the level of national security.
Specifically, if one were to, for example, scan all of the people in downtown Manhattan or all of the people who pass through JFK or LaGuardia on a given day, the number of people that are scanned, as well as the lower resolution of the scanning cameras, makes the job far more difficult.
Even so, it’s clear that there are technologies that can handle larger populations of people and images and can do it in the blink of an eye.
For me, I still like that when I need a photo of my sister, Terri, I can go to my Google Photos, click on her name, and I have hundreds of photos of her to enjoy.
Mark Mathias is a 35-plus- year information technology executive and a resident of Westport. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.