In the latest sign that facial recognition is getting more sophisticated than people's ability to cope with it, a new phone app called Recognizr promises to "augment reality" in a new way: using an image of a person to tell you who they are.
Here's a video showing a trial version in action:
It's at the prototype stage now and works only on Android phones. The Swedish company behind it is called The Astonishing Tribe. Which, honestly, I'm just too busy to make fun of properly. Instead, here's a visualization (my own) of how the system would work:
Person A takes a picture of herself, and uploads it to Recognizr.
She then connects the image to her various social "presences" — Facebook, Picasa, LinkedIn, etc.
At a party, Person B sees Person A — and points their cellphone at her. They hit the "Recognize" button on their screen, and Recognizr confirms that, yes, Person A is that girl Person B hated in high school — and from the looks of her online life, she's far more successful.
Now, if Recognizr could then alert everyone else in the room that a big scene was about to go down, that'd be great.
Something like: "Is Person B slamming margaritas? If yes: She's about to put the smackdown on Person A." Bonus points if that text goes to everyone EXCEPT for Person A — who, let's face it, has had enough good luck in life already.
And that's just one example. The feel-good interpretation of facial recognition is that it would help people connect, to realize that no-one is really a stranger, just a friend you haven't met — all that stuff.
The noxious side of it ranges from stalker empowerment to the taming of parties and bar scenes. I mean, many of us are already paranoid that some wild photos or online comments might cost us a future job opportunity.
Put actual facial recognition software in the hands of any random stranger, and you'd have a whole new reason to put that lampshade on your head — to cover your face 'til you've reestablished a sense of decorum.
And this kind of software is not as rare as you might think. As we've discussed before, Google Goggles — which can identify objects and buildings — has a similar capability. But faced with privacy concerns — and a general fear that Google is already involved in our lives enough — the company disabled the feature before it launched Goggles.
If all of this sounds really complicated and futuristic, consider this: Recognizr, which uses Polar Rose's facial recognition software, require an image of at least 5 megapixels, according to an article in Technology Review — not exactly a high bar.
And some new cameras are actually shipping with facial recognition ability already embedded in their software. One, from Fujifilm, can even recognize your pet:
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
Japanese actress Nozomi Sesaki displays Fujifilm's FinePix Z700 EXR, which identifies not only the faces of people — but of their pets, too.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
Facial recognition is being pushed as a way to help us organize our digital photos, in iPhoto and other image library services — including Facebook, where Polar Rose is already active. And some new cameras are even coming pre-equipped with the ability.
I'm hearing the privacy advocates loud and clear. This is a scarily rich pool of information that we're still figuring out how to control — and, often, learning to be comfortable with a lack of total control.
But you can't blame people for trying to find a new way to answer an age-old question, one that dates from the first time Adam looked across the garden at Eve: Who Dat?