There’s a face for that

It may not yet be common knowledge, but the technology already exists to figure out who a person is from a photo of that person. In particular, if you have a database of images of people’s faces, each tagged with the name of that person, then there are fairly reliable algorithms that can identify any one of those people from a new photo.

Meanwhile, millions of people are walking around carrying iPhones. There is already a culture in place whereby people use their iPhone to surreptitiously take photos of other people (you pretend you’re reading something on your screen, when in reality you are aiming your iPhone and clicking the shutter).

Logically you would think people would use an iPhone App to tell you who that guy or gal is at that party, or professional conference, or gallery opening? I mean, these are exactly the situations in which you are dealing with a known group of people, for whom tagged photos are likely to already exist.

I confess I’m one of those people who “knows” hundreds of people (at least) from conferences and other professional situations — if by “know” we mean that I recognize their faces and realize that I’ve spoken with them before, and have probably even shared a beer or two with them at one time. But I could not even begin to connect most of those familiar faces to their respective names, let alone to their professional affiliations.

Yes, I know that conferences hand out badges to attendees. But any conference attendee knows the limitations of that technology. Half the time people have their badge flipped around backwards, and during the evening parties (which is when you really get to talk with people), more than half have ditched their badges altogether – and the people who don’t wear nerdy badges at parties are probably just the people you’d rather talk to.

And of course you won’t generally find people wearing name tags at purely social gatherings or downtown performance events or art gallery openings.

It’s not just a question of name recognition. Your iPhone (which is, after all, a network appliance) could actually tell you something useful about that person — like the fact that they are working on precisely the research problem for which you’ve been seeking an expert. Or — in a slightly more sophisticated version — that they have just put a posting on Craig’s List to unload exactly that model of used netbook you’ve been desperate to find (and which they might be carrying with them right now). You get the idea.

I did a little searching around the Web. There are indeed some iPhone Apps out there that do face recognition. One of them even integrates with Facebook pictures. And yet I’ve never seen anyone use one.

Why is that?

6 thoughts on “There’s a face for that”

  1. an extension of the whole anti-paparazzi project is a collection face-detection fooler accessories… stay tuned 🙂 would love to hear more of your knowledge of who’s already using these ID-softwares. are you going to make the iPhone app?

  2. I confess I don’t even carry an iPhone. I wrote that post because I know that millions of other people do.

    In fact, my current cell phone is a Nokia N93, which came out almost exactly four years ago.

    I believe that translates to about 28 years in cell phone years. 🙂

  3. It’s really a good idea for people who want to approach to others in a conference or gallary or public to have a hand-held name (or background) recogonizing device. I mean, it’s amazing. But there’s some privacy issues I think. Some people don’t want to be bothered. That’s maybe the reason why they don’t ware badges at parties. I heard in some countries, such as Japan, there is a law that every camera have to have a shutter sound which can not be turned off to prevent candid camera. Do you think it’s a problem?

  4. I was just discussing this idea with my Dad, who has struggled with this problem all his life (matching faces to names.) He told me he would pay hundreds of dollars for a product that did this. On the other hand, when I discussed it with a friend, he was horrified at the complete loss of privacy that would bring about.

  5. Maybe we should define privacy for us in new way. Thinking about such a device it may give me although information about the friends on facebook of this person, maybe I get even a naked picture.
    But in the end I do not know much about the other person, nothing more than a view from outside.

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