Facial recognition is a category of biometric software that maps an individual's facial features mathematically and stores the data as a faceprint. The software uses deep learning algorithms to compare a live capture or digital image to the stored faceprint in order to verify an individual's identity.
High-quality cameras in mobile devices have made facial recognition a viable option for authentication as well as identification. Apple’s iPhone X, for example, includes Face ID technology that lets users unlock their phones with a faceprint mapped by the phone's camera. The phone's software, which is designed with 3-D modeling to resist being spoofed by photos or masks, captures and compares over 30,000 variables. As of this writing, Face ID can be used to authenticate purchases with Apple Pay and in the iTunes Store, App Store and iBooks Store. Apple encrypts and stores faceprint data in the cloud, but authentication takes place directly on the device.
Developers can use Amazon Rekognition, an image analysis service that's part of the Amazon AI suite, to add facial recognition and analysis features to an application. Google provides a similar capability with its Google Cloud Vision API. The technology, which uses machine learning to detect, match and identify faces, is being used in a wide variety of ways, including entertainment and marketing. The Kinect motion gaming system, for example, uses facial recognition to differentiate among players. Smart advertisements in airports are now able to identify the gender, ethnicity and approximate age of a passersby and target the advertisement to the person's demographic.
Facebook uses facial recognition software to tag individuals in photographs. Each time an individual is tagged in a photograph, the software stores mapping information about that person’s facial characteristics. Once enough data has been collected, the software can use that information to identify a specific individual's face when it appears in a new photograph. To protect people's privacy, a feature called Photo Review notifies the Facebook member who has been identified.
Currently, there are no laws in the United States that specifically protect an individual's biometric data. Facial recognition systems are currently being studied or deployed for airport security and it's estimated that more than half the United States population has already had their faceprint captured. According the Department of Homeland Security, the only way to avoid having biometric information collected when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for European Member States does address biometric data.
How a simple facial recognition application works
The software identifies 80 nodal points on a human face. In this context, nodal points are endpoints used to measure variables of a person’s face, such as the length or width of the nose, the depth of the eye sockets and the shape of the cheekbones. The system works by capturing data for nodal points on a digital image of an individual’s face and storing the resulting data as a faceprint. The faceprint is then used as a basis for comparison with data captured from faces in an image or video.
Even though the facial recognition system only uses 80 nodal points, it can quickly and accurately identify target individuals when the conditions are favorable. However, if the subject’s face is partially obscured or in profile rather than facing forward, or if the light is insufficient, this type of software is less reliable. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the incidence of false positives in facial recognition systems has been halved every two years since 1993.
Uses of facial recognition technology
- A research team at Carnegie Mellon has developed a proof-of-concept iPhone app that can take a picture of an individual and -- within seconds -- return the individual's name, date of birth and social security number.
- The Google Arts & Culture app uses facial recognition to identify museum doppelgangers by matching a real person's faceprint with portrait's faceprint.
- Professor Shen Hao of the Communications University of China uses facial recognition technology to track students’ attendance.
- Amazon, MasterCard and Alibaba have rolled out facial recognition payment methods commonly referred to as selfie pay.
Kim Komando explains facial recognition technology: