Tag Archives: FBI

Interesting questions and serious concerns

Revell, Timothy Concerns as face recognition tech used to ‘identify’ criminals. New Scientist. December 1st 2016.


Garvie, Clare, Bedoya, Alvaro and Frankle, Jonathan The perpetual line-up: unregulated police face recognition in America. Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. OCTOBER 18th 2016.


Is there really a criminal face? I don’t think the research discussed in the New Scientist article settles the debate by any means, but at least the controversial idea is opened up for investigation. If there is one my guess is that it is a look that coincides with the Australian face (every race and nation has a distinctive averaged facial type, apparently). European colonisation of Australia began as a penal colony and thus a good part of the white genetics of Australians arrived in this country through people identified as criminals. My best guess is that the crim face has a large straight nose, thin lips and puffy, small eyes. I’d guess this unattractive face could in itself be a social and economic disadvantage, or could be symptomatic of a phenotype that includes some degree of intellectual impairment. I think if there is a crim face it might have little to do with personality but a lot to do with disadvantage, but this is all speculation.

I think it is worth noting that claims made in the print version of this article about supposed advantages of AI over humans in face recognition skills such as identifying age, gender, ethnicity and tiredness by looking at faces presumably only apply to humans of average face recognition ability who maybe are not as exhaustively trained in these skills as the AI systems have been. One cannot compare human ability with AI in face recognition until appropriately trained super-recognizers (representing the top end of human ability) have been pitted against machines. I’m guessing this hasn’t been done.

Perhaps the most important part of this article is right at the end; “…the majority of US police departments using face recognition do little to ensure that the software is accurate.” That certainly is not good enough. Human super-recognizers have abilities that have been proven in scientific testing and also in practice in policing in the UK. Why do so many people persist in the assumption that machines must be better than humans in visual processing, in the face of an abundance of evidence? The link in the New Scientist article to the website of the researchers who have criticized the use of face recognition technology in law enforcement in the United States of America is worth a look for sure.

The trouble with police, large photograph databases and face recognition technology

Hodson, Hal Police mass face recognition in the US will net innocent people. New Scientist. October 20th 2016.


United States Government Accountability Office Face Recognition Technology: FBI Should Better Ensure Privacy and Accuracy. May 2016.


Had you assumed that hiring human super-recognizers to perform face recognition tasks would be less effective, less accurate and more open to bias than using technology? Think again.

News on facial recognition technology of the last week


I briefly noticed a news story on TV a few days ago which featured a piece of facial recognition technology worn as glasses (like Google Glass) which included big claims about being able to identify a face from a database of thousands of persons of interest. I think the news story linked to above is that story, about X6 spy glasses, Osterhout Design Group, Defense Intelligence Agency (USA Govt) and Dr Brian Lovell, a professor at the University of Queensland and CTO at Imagus Pty Ltd. Dr Lovell has a very impressive CV but all the same I was not impressed in 2012 with the way he lightly dismissed the capabilities of human face recognition in an appearance on the Catalyst science TV show from the ABC. I’ll be impressed by the X6 technology when it is used and tested in real life applications. The period of time that human facial recognition capabilities have been used and tested in real life applications is measured in millions of years, so I think the artificial versions of facial recognition might have a bit of catching up to do.




On a similar theme I have found some interesting recent news stories comparing the facial recognition databases of Facebook and the FBI. It looks like Facebook’s DeepFace is superior in important ways compared to the FBI’s Next Generation Identification. I think it is important to consider the value of such databases, as well as human face recognition, as tools in the investigative process rather than as producers of forensic evidence, and for sure these technological facial recognition databases can use (memorize?) huge volumes of images. But regarding the actual process of face recognition, I’m still to be convinced that there is any technology that can do what humans, including human super-recognizers, can do. As Russell Brandom wrote in The Verge “While there are plenty of contractors who are willing to promise “near-human” recognition capabilities, real facial recognition is much harder than the industry lets on.”

Ear recognition the key, not face recognition?

One of the stories on 60 Minutes (Australian) a couple of weeks ago was interesting in terms of the visual and forensic recognition and identification of a person. The title of the true story was The Imposter,  reported by Karl Stefanovic and produced by Gareth Harvey. The story was about the missing American boy Nicholas Barclay and the French serial impostor Frédéric Bourdin who pretended to be the missing boy grown older. A documentary film about this story was released this year. Amazingly, he was believed by close relatives of the missing boy even though his eyes and hair were of a different colour to the missing boy, his age was a mismatch, he had a French accent, and of course a different face. The most disturbing aspect of the story was how an obvious faker found in Spain could have been misidentified as a missing American boy by police, the FBI and the US immigration department, and then legally documented as the missing boy and flown to the USA. These organizations are full of blind people? I guess these organizations must have a great record for employing the disabled, but also a lousy record for doing their jobs accurately. I’m not sure if these organizations need to recruit some super-recognizers, or just need to employ more people with basic thinking and decision-making skills and a firm grasp on rationality.

An interesting feature that this case shares with the baffling Australian mystery the Taman Shud Case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man is the forensic examination of ears to identify a person. The French impostor was busted by private investigator Charlie Parker who noticed that the ears of Barclay and  Bourdin did not match. ”I asked the cameraman to zoom in on his ears, because I knew that was the way to identify people for sure; I had read a book about Scotland Yard doing that.” This is another thing that amazes me about this case; I don’t understand why the ears were seen as a more certain way to prove that the man with the French accent wasn’t the American missing boy than the different colours of the irises of their eyes or their clearly different faces. Why are ears seen as a more objective measure? Because they are an overlooked part of the body that people don’t cosmetically alter much? It makes me wonder whether our culture has been misled into thinking that face recognition by humans is a subjective art because of instances of facial misidentifications by some prosopagnosics whose disability isn’t understood. Most people are very good at identifying faces of other people from their own race, and are also naturally very good at identifying voices. Some people are exceptionally good at remembering faces. There are times when we need to trust our own natural abilities and use our common sense.

Missing boy and the will to believe. by Stephanie Bunbury Sydney Morning Herald. February 23, 2013


60 Minutes. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8633767

Somerton Beach Mystery Man. Reporter: Simon Royal. Stateline (South Australia) Broadcast: 15/05/2009  http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/sa/content/2006/s2573273.htm