The concept of facial recognition got its start in the 1960s when Woodrow Wilson Bledsoe devised a system to classify photographs of faces. Since then, technological advancements have arguably pushed this feature to be one of the most powerful security tools ever created. Now, facial recognition is the most commonly used method to unlock smartphones, tag friends in social media posts, and even navigate through automated airport check-ins. But, how does this technology work, and what are its effects?
The Tech Behind Facial Recognition
Every facial recognition software works a bit differently since they are often created using proprietary algorithms. Nonetheless, the basic process can be divided into three main steps.
First is detection, or the process of locating a face within an image. Much like auto-focus on iPhone cameras, facial recognition technology will scan any image before identifying human features and settling on the pictured face.
Next comes analysis– also known as attribution. This step involves the mathematical mapping of the face, which is often completed by measuring chin shape, the distance between a person’s eyes, and the distance between a person’s nose and mouth. These data points are converted into a series of numbers, known as a “faceprint.”
Finally, using this faceprint, the technology will attempt to recognize and confirm the identity of the person in the image. This is completed by comparing the face detected in the image against any other known faces in a database via cross-referencing. Take, for example, your iPhone. Anyone who does not scan their face into your iPhone’s accessibility settings will not be registered in your phone’s database, and therefore will not be able to unlock the device.
Facial Recognition Pros
Facial recognition technology can enhance safety and security in numerous ways throughout various sectors. Primarily, law enforcement agencies can utilize the tech to find missing people and identify perpetrators of crimes. Businesses can also implement facial recognition as a preemptive measure against theft. By adding this feature to your security network, any unrecognized individuals can be flagged, and any already known thieves can be identified and stored in your identity database. Plus, if your business does become a victim of theft, facial recognition software can help law enforcement officers further your case.
Other benefits of facial recognition include greater security and more streamlined screening in places such as banks and airports. Plus, in our post-COVID society, human touchpoints are becoming less and less popular. Facial recognition can potentially eliminate the physical handling of entryways and other common points of physical contact.
Facial Recognition Cons
Nonetheless, this extreme technological advancement has also been met with pushback. Many people are concerned about threats to individual and greater societal privacy since facial images and scans are stored in databases for unknown periods of time.
The technology has also spurred fears about personal rights and freedoms– particularly concerning law enforcement. Police could theoretically run each face in their database through virtual crime lineups without probable cause. Moreover, this tech is not “fool proof” and a false positive may lead to someone being improperly identified.
Finally, there are also concerns about data vulnerabilities. In fact, hackers have already shown they can infiltrate the facial scan databases of police departments, banks, and defense firms after the hacking of software company Clearview AI in 2020. And, when a breach like this does occur, every individual’s stored personal information is at risk– potentially leading to identity theft or targeted crime.
The Future Of Facial Recognition
Facial recognition technology will continue to improve, with the possibility of recognizing other human characteristics ranging from physical body parts to even the way someone walks. At the same time, learning more about the tech will likely decrease the frequency of inaccuracies and allow agencies to better secure their networks. Still, how vastly the public will allow the feature to be implemented in general society remains to be seen.