It seems very odd to me that this television story from Australia’s ABC about face recognition technology and its possible applications to forensic/law enforcement work opened with some compelling images of the 2011 England Riots, but failed to mention the apparently successful application of human face recognition specialists (super-recognizers) by the Metropolitan Police in London to interpreting CCTV images of those riots. Superrecognisers weren’t mentioned at all in the Catalyst report, an important omission, and the value of human face recognition was dismissed lightly by Professor Brian Lovell from the University of Queensland. Prof. Lovell’s areas of expertise are electrical engineering and computer science, so one might not expect him to know a lot about human face recognition. The world’s leaders in research in human face memory and face recognition are generally psychologists. The reporter Anja Taylor chose to focus solely on Australian interviewees and argued that “new facial recognition technology promises crime fighters their greatest gift.” There seem to be a number of contradictions between reporting by Catalyst and media in the UK about the forensic use of CCTV images of the English riots. Catalyst’s technophilic and Austro-centric perspective is a questionable treatment of the subject but I’m not surprised, as I’ve been viewing Catalyst for long enough to realise that it is primarily a bit of light entertainment from the ABC that gives Australian researchers opportunities promote their latest work. I found it quite amusing that the journalist presented face recognition tasks which average humans do rountinely and with ease, tasks such as identifying faces in poor images and identifying a moving face while tracking it, as miracles of technology when a computer system performs these tasks.
It appears that Australia doesn’t have science journalists working in the electronic media, we just have a small group of slick and entertaining radio and TV presenters who have lots of contacts in science and academia. Don’t we deserve better?
May 5th 2012 – Maybe I shouldn’t be quite as harsh about the standard of journalism at Catalyst. I’ve been watching a repeat of last week’s episode of Catalyst, and the report by Anja Taylor about the phenomenon of mass tree deaths and diseases in response to rising temperatures and drought seemed to be excellent work on a very important issue. I can’t claim much knowledge of the subject, but I thought it was good. Taylor interviewed not just one or two, but many different scientists working in various areas of ecological science, and I think it might just be the case that more effort in this report resulted in a better piece of journalism. I just wish Catalyst would stop producing journalism that isn’t done with as much care and effort.
Facial Recognition. Catalyst. Reporter: Anja Taylor. 3 May 2012. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3494034.htm