Tag Archives: Perth face-space project

For important people only

I’ve just discovered the details of this “by invitation only” workshop that was scheduled for February past. I’m guessing the subject of the event was the Perth face-space project, which I have written about previously, but the description of the event seems deliberately vague.

http://www.conferenceonline.com/site_templet/images/group6/site36/Faces%20of%20Western%20Australia%20Flyer%20(6).pdf

http://scienceontheswan.com.au/?pgid=534

 

Story about Oxford Uni researcher developing computer facial recognition of rare diseases on ABC radio

I just discovered this story from the Science Show on ABC Radio National from earlier this month about researcher Christoffer Nellåker. It sounds a lot to me like the kind of research that researchers in Perth, Western Australia have been busy with in the Perth Face-Space Project.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again; I’m bemused that so much effort and research is continuing to be put into very sophisticated efforts to create systems for recognizing genetic disorders and diseases in facial appearances, involving sophisticated computer algorithms and photography, to do a job that any super-recognizer could be trained to do with I expect little time and effort. In fact I expect that super-recognizers and people with average levels of face recognition ability naturally have unconsciously-used skills at detecting facial dysmorphology. Who couldn’t pick a case of Down’s syndrome in a crowd, regardless of age or gender? And Treacher Collins is hard to miss, and easy enough to name once you know what it is. I get the point that some of the diseases that can be detected in the face are exceedingly rare, and therefore even a medical specialist would have little or nothing in the way of familiarity with the typical appearance linked to the disease, but I would think it is also true that for any medical case a short-list of diseases will be identified during the diagnostic process, and for each of those diseases, regardless of rarity, there should be some kind of photographic record that can be accessed and studied, and compared against the appearance of the patient. Whichever way you look at it, this job needn’t be rocket science, but as is so often the case, people feel more comfortable in placing their faith in the performance computer system than the skill of a person.

Williams, Robyn Identifying rare diseases from facial images. Science Show. Radio National ABC. December 6th 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/identifying-rare-diseases-from-facial-images/5947924

Saw, Samantha Defining normal. InkWire. April 17, 2014. http://inkwirenews.com.au/2014/04/17/defining-normal/

In a perfect world every doctor would be a super-recognizer

In Western Australia a male infertility patient and his partner were given IVF, but it was later found that he had a genetic disorder that could have been passed on to the baby. I think if the doctor responsible for this omission had been a super-recognizer, it is possible that he or she might have spotted something in this patient’s face or appearance that would have given them the tip that a genetic anomaly might have been an issue. Perhaps one day a version of the Perth face-space project with adult’s faces might be developed to routinely and automatically screen or identify such patients.

Doctor fears IVF used too much. CATHY O’LEARY, MEDICAL EDITOR

The West Australian. July 20, 2013.

http://health.thewest.com.au/news/799/doctor-fears-ivf-used-too-much

Oh wow! My idea is being developed by the scientists, and they are scientists in my home town.

I’ve just noticed a story that has been run on the ABC programs 7.30 WA and State to State about researchers in Perth (scientists, doctors and an orthodontist), including some at PMH, who are creating a database of normal children’s faces to create the Perth face-space project, which appears to be a tool in development for the identification of the countless rare (genetic?) diseases which have characteristic facial appearance or facies. This knowledge can be shared globally, so this is Western Australia’s gift to the world. Wow!  We can’t make really good coffee in Perth, but we can do some interesting things here. There is already a research paper by Perth researchers and a Belgian researcher published in which this type of 3D face database method has been researched as a possible tool for monitoring and discriminating a group of rare metabolic diseases in which disease progression alters the facial appearance. I’m very excited to learn about this project because the idea of using face recognition to diagnose or identify rare diseases and rare genetic syndromes is an idea that has been obvious to me for many years, as a super-recognizer who is not only able to memorize faces very well, but is also able to compare and analyse faces with a degree of unconscious skill that is probably above average. I’m sure that most people have an awareness of the significance of facial appearance.

One important consideration needs to be factored into this kind of project – the definite possibility that the characteristic facial features that are being studied can be artificially altered before the patient ever goes near a face scanner or a medical face photographer. Many good parents spend a small fortune with othodontists getting their offspring’s teeth straightened and in doing this they are often erasing one of the signs of a genetic or developmental anomaly. Children can also be the subject of plastic surgery on the face, especially if they were born with a disfiguring facial defect.

One thing that I don’t think is mentioned in this news story is the fact that the studying of faces as an element of medical diagnosis is nothing new at all and does not require any fancy new technology or photographing of patients at all. This new project looks like it will be a great refinement of an idea, but I don’t think it will achieve anything that hasn’t already been done before using human abilities alone. Descriptions of rare diseases and genetic syndromes in medical textbooks or online info sources often feature photographs of patient’s faces that display characteristic features linked with the diseases and conditions. These features can also be described in detailed technical/medical language, much like detailed technical botanical descriptions of the parts of plant species using specialized terms (jargon). Doctors who specialize in genetics or related specialties know what this all means, and they should also have a high to super-recognizer ability to recognize facial phenotypes or at least have the ability to do visual image matching/comparison from the photographs. A specialist doctor with access to photographic resources and good eyes and sound and well-connected intra-cranial face processing hardware should be able to consider the patient’s face properly in a diagnostic process, no online database needed. But this process is labour-intensive, so I can see a use for an online face database.

3D Camera used to detect disease. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/3d-camera-used-to-detect-disease/4654822

Stefanie Kung, Mark Walters, Peter Claes, Jack Goldblatt, Peter Le Souef, and Gareth Baynam A Dysmorphometric Analysis to Investigate Facial Phenotypic Signatures as a Foundation for Non-invasive Monitoring of Lysosomal Storage Disorders. JIMD Reports. 2013; 8: 31–39. Published online 2012 June 10. doi: 10.1007/8904_2012_152  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3565667/

Saw, Samantha Defining normal. InkWire. April 17, 2014. http://inkwirenews.com.au/2014/04/17/defining-normal/

Super-recognizer jobs, or why you should be testing prospective employees for visual memory

[This post last updated June 2018]

While I’m sure there are very few jobs in which being a superrecognizer alone is sufficient qualification, it is also clear that good or elite face memory/recognition ability is a very important work skill in many roles. A normal level of face recognition ability is probably required for most jobs, unless particular measures are taken to accommodate employees who can’t recognize faces, such as name badges etc. I’m surprised that police forces generally don’t test for face recognition ability in their recruitment screening tests or their training regimes, and I think my dismay might be shared by face recognition and prosopagnosia researchers. Criminals generally don’t wear name badges, and they aren’t very accommodating people. It is probably true that many or most prosopagnosics use alternative methods to memorize, identify or recognize people, such as face-matching strategies in certain situations or memorizing gaits, hairstyles or voices of people. Even if face-blind people are able to use some effective methods to identify others, we can’t escape from the fact that face recognition is widely used as a means of identifying individuals and there is a general assumption that everyone can do it, so it is important for police forces and other organizations to know whether they have members who can’t memorize and identify faces.

Superior face memory ability must surely be a valuable tool for those working in policing, law enforcement, security and intelligence roles. If we make the assumption that excellent face recognition ability is linked with superiority in visually identifying various other types of items within specified classes, such as identifying different makes of cars, or planes or different species of birds or plant varieties, etc, (and I believe there is some scientific evidence to support this assumption), then the super-recognizer possibly has a real advantage in a very diverse range of occupations. When I was watching the TV series Secrets of the Super-brands which was broadcast a few months ago in Australia, I recall seeing a scientist, (I’ve forgotten her name), saying that when people look at the logos and labels of well-known consumer products, the parts of the brain that activate are also some of the parts of the brain that do face recognition, so I think we can also assume that superrecognition probably gives an advantage in visually identifying consumer products, which could be useful in retailing and nightfill work (and if you think this sounds like an easy task in visual discrimination, go look at the range of near-identical products in the light globe or dishwasher detergent sections of a large supermarket). A super-recognizer with generally superior ability in visual recognition might have an advantage in areas of medicine in which visual recognition is a core task, and that would be a number of areas of medicine. Visual face, object and pattern recognition and memory are applicable to a huge range of occupations. Here are some ideas:

Working for a specialist contractor – I only know of one organisation that seems to fit into this category, Super Recognisers International. This organisation appears to operate in the UK.

Police work – Specialist super-recognizers are currently working in law enforcement in the UK, but apparently not in Australia or anywhere else in the world. The necessity of excellent face recognition in police work is obvious. Countless press articles can be found through the internet about the use of an elite super-recognizer team by the Metropolitan Police in London, including the live surveillence of huge crowds at the 2013 Notting Hill Carnival and huge numbers of identifications and convictions from identification of images of offenders in CCTV image recordings from the 2011 England riots.

Police Misconduct Investigator – one of the most famous super-recognizers works in this niche occupation (see this article)

CCTV image interpretation – An obvious application for super-recognition, but I do not know of any use of super-recognizers in this area of work besides a UK police force.

Detective work – Duh! The necessity of excellent face recognition is obvious.

Border protestion, customs, passport officers, TSA agents – see below and also see suggestions made by super-recognizer researcher Brad Duchaine in an August 2013 article in Science News.

Security work – The necessity of excellent face recognition is obvious. In The Psychologist in October 2013 three super-recognition researchers explained how super-recognizers can out-perform facial recognition technology in difficult conditions, and they identified passport officers, and surveillence and security roles as possible applications for super-recognizer ability.

Intelligence agencies (spooks, ASIO) – The necessity of excellent face recognition in this line of work is obvious, but when I asked a recruitment officer representing ASIO at a graduate career fair in 2018 whether ASIO are interested in recruiting super-recognizers, she appeared to have no idea what a super is, or why we’d be useful.

Consultant – If you can’t find a super-recognizer from within your business or organization, hire one for tasks that require this elite natural ability.

Paparazzi (photographers who take unauthorized photos of celebrities in their everyday life to supply photos to the print media)  and photojournalism – Exceptional face recognition ability would probably be an essential requirement for this job, because I guess these people need to be able to identify celebrities cold in out-of-context and private situations, as in this photo-opportunity. Celebrities often use face-covering strategies to avoid the paparazzi, such as wearing sunglasses and hats or none of their typical make-up, sometimes even disguises and fake facial hair.

Journalism / photojournalism– I guess that the journalist’s requirement for exceptional face memory would be similar to that of the paparazzi. Journalists need to identify, investigate and meet people and not get people off-side by failing to recognize them.

Management and supervisory roles – The necessity of at least good face recognition is obvious.

Electoral Officer – I’m guessing excellent face recognition ability might help identify anyone trying to vote more than once in the same place. I have no idea how often this happens in our time or whether there are easier ways to rig a ballot. I do know that a coercive form of this type of electoral fraud was a common enough in the USA in the 19th century to be given a name (cooping).

Exam Supervisor or Exam Invigilator – at universities or wherever important written examinations are conducted. These days important exams can require candidates to present identification cards or passes with a photograph on it, presumably as a measure to prevent or deter people from sitting an exam for someone else fraudulently. Of course, this type of misconduct can only be detected if the exam invigilators carefully and ably check the face of every person who wishes to sit the exam against their ID card photo, a task clearly requiring excellent face recognition or face matching ability, especially considering the fact that universities these days have international student bodies of a mixture of races, and the cross-race effect can make it more difficult to recognize faces of a race that is not one’s own. The idea of checking exam candidates’ photo-ID is very nice idea, but I think rarely put into action.

Teaching and Education? – At least good face recognition skills required for this type of job. Should a school headmaster be able to recognize and know all students in the school on sight? A teacher certainly needs to be able to positively identify all students in their class.

Sales, PR, marketing?

Customer service roles – including library work / librarian, public service, retail and general business roles dealing with public or customers or prospective customers

Debt collectors?

Radiologist – Expert and specialized visual recognition skills are essential to this medical job, but unlike being a super-recognizer, these skills are learned deliberately through a conscious process. With the development of AI tools that can learn this type of skill (visual recognition), there have been opinions expressed that there is no point training more doctors into this medical specialty, but a 2018 article in The Economist suggests that this job, like many others that have survived technological innovation, will be aided but not replaced by technology.

Sonographer – see above

Dermatologist – visually recognizing symptoms of countless different skin diseases requires developed, expert visual recognition ability

Medical Geneticist – recognizing characteristic faces and phenotypes as symptoms of countless rare genetic and inborn syndromes. The Perth Face-Space Project is apparently based on the idea of faces as phenotypes of genetic disorders. In my opinion, this area of skill very much overlaps with the natural ability of the super-recognizer.

Second-hand motor vehicle dealer – knowing vehicle models and detailed product knowledge are probably visual recognition skills related to FR

Botanist – visually recognizing and discriminating between countless different but often near-indistinguishable plant species

Zoologist – as above

Entomologist – as above

Ecologist – as above

Biologist – as above

Natural Environment Rehabilitation – Quickly and accurately visually identifying native plants and animals and also weeds and pest species are essential skills for such a role and I bet a super would have an advantage.

Environmental Conservation – as above

Gardening – Being able to tell weeds from legitimate plants is an essential skill, as is being able to accurately identify and know about a huge range of garden plants, trees and native species, and the primary means of identification is visual. You’d want to know the difference between a gladioli and a Watsonia weed, or the subtle difference between the self-seeding South African plant Pelargonium capitatum which is an environmental pest in coastal areas of WA, and the garden cultivar “Attar of Roses” which was derived from this species.

Retailing – Dealing with people and products. Super-recognizer Moira Jones wrote about the value of her elite face recognition in a past role in retail, both for superior customer service and identifying suspects in a police investigation of a robbery.

Night-fill in supermarkets  and retail – Visual memory for product packaging and logos, a generally excellent eye and memory for details and excellent spatial memory are essential

Proof-reading – Does superior face memory correlate with superior memory for the appearance of correctly-spelled words? I believe it does in some supers.

Chicken sexing – An elite and trained level of visual recognition is the core requirement of this job, which unfortunately is now mostly obsolete due to genetic engineering of obvious sexual dimorphism into chicken breeds

Gem sorting, diamond sorting – I don’t know much at all about this job, but I imagine that like chicken sexing it might be a highly specialized job requiring trained visual perception, and could either be well-paid or redundant due to automation.

Prospecting – A very sharp eye is obviously a core requirement. Prospecting is a lifestyle more than a job, and what a lifestyle! An interesting assortment of people do this for a living or for a supplementary income and pastime, and some of them are living in remote locations to hide from people who are searching for them. I have tried my hand at the sieve and slurry method of prospecting for gemstones, and I think I was pretty good at it right from the start. This method or something like it is also used to find alluvial gold.

My warmest best wishes to all of my readers who are currently looking for work (or sapphires or gold nuggets).

References and further reading and viewing

AI, radiology and the future of work. Economist. June 7th 2018.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/06/07/ai-radiology-and-the-future-of-work

This is a link to a YouTube video of the episode of the always-entertaining TV quiz/trivia show QI in which poultry sexing as a job and highly specialized skill was discussed, toward the end of the episode: http://youtu.be/_LsYdsYprfY

McFarland, Sam Digest: We meet people who have or research ‘super’ abilities. Psychologist. Volume 26 Part 10 October 2013. p.716-717 http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=26&editionID=231&ArticleID=2345

(Interesting brief piece of autobiographical writing by super-recognizer Moira Jones about her ability and how it has been useful in her past work in retail. Also comments by researcher Dr Ashok Jansari summarizing the span of his research on supers which includes recruiting Jones as a study subject. Also in the same issue a substantial article about super-recognizers. )

Davis, J.P., Lander, K., and Jansari, A. I never forget a face. Psychologist. October 2013. 26(10), 726-729. http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm/volumeID_26-editionID_231-ArticleID_2347-getfile_getPDF/thepsychologist/1013davi.pdf  http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=26&editionID=231&ArticleID=2347

(Essential reading on the subject of super-recognizers. Covers the history of the concept of the super-recognizer, use of supers in UK police and summarizes studies of supers including the original 2009 study and studies by Davis and by Jansari which have yet to be published as journal papers. Lots of interesting info from unpublished and published studies, speculation about what causes super-recognition, the prevalence of super-recognition and whether the ability is generalised to higher ability in other types of visual identification, and discussion of the definition of super-recognition and potential for effective and deliberate use of supers in working roles. This article/paper is in an edition of this professional journal titled “The age of the superhuman” which has other material in it about superrecognition and memory superiority.)

Bremer, Bruce Some London police are “super-recognizers”. Law Enforcement Today. October 5th 2013. http://lawenforcementtoday.com/2013/10/05/some-london-police-are-%E2%80%9Csuper-recognizers%E2%80%9D/

(A brief article from a US police publication confirming that the use of supers by the police force in London is currently unique in the world. Also see the detailed clarifying comment by Mick Neville.)

Gaidos, Susan Familiar faces. Science News.  Web edition August 23rd 2013, Print edition September 7th 2013. Volume 184 Number 5 p.16. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/352687/description/Familiar_faces

(Science News is the “Magazine of the Society for Science & the Public”. A substantial article. Julian Lim, Carrie Shanafelt and Ajay Jansari (brother of super-recognizer researcher Dr Ashok Jansari) identified as super-recognizers. Researchers interviewed include Bradley Duchaine, Ashok Jansari, Irving Biederman, Nancy Kanwisher, Josh P. Davis and Joe DeGutis. Interesting info about possible directions of future research.)