Sunday, May 13, 2012

Facial Recognition

“I work with technology that is yet to come,” said Gregory Kipper, “futurist” with General Dynamics. Kipper spoke about facial recognition in his session at the 2012 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society.

Kipper dispelled the myth that photographs can be analyzed as easily as is done on television shows and movies. He showed two video clips from YouTube that poke fun at the notion. This is the first. (To view online, click here.)

This clip makes fun of television shows and movies that perform impossible photo analyses

In the second, a CSI team supposedly zooms in 100x on an eye, rotates the photo to show parts of the eye not visible to the camera, isolates a reflection on the iris and compensates for the spoon-shape of the eye. The result is an image of a basketball. (To view online, click here.)

This clip makes fun of a scene from CSI involving image enhancement

The truth is, it doesn’t matter how good the technology gets, if the megapixels of the camera are too low, or if a photograph is scanned at too low of a resolution, nothing can be done to “correct” resolution that is too low.

But some things are happening in this field and more is coming.

Kipper said that facial recognition falls into the category of biometric identification. Other types of identification are attribute and biographical. To me, the latter two sound like what we are used to as genealogists: names, dates, events, places, and relationships. Kipper identified more commercial aspects that are driving current technology development: cell phone location, credit card usage, buying patterns, and social network activity. (Facebook and Twitter are forms of social networking.) He said that in the future facial recognition will not be used in isolation, but in combination with these other forms of identification.

Photo: David Stuart; Retouching: Smalldog ImageworksA currently popular concept is augmented reality. Imagine looking around the room through special glasses (or pointing your iPhone around the room) and seeing computer generated messages overlaid on top of what you see. Imagine scanning the horizon and seeing pop ups indicating nearby cemeteries, along with distances and cemetery names. Imagine looking out over a cemetery and seeing ghost-like transparent photographs of the deceased hanging in the air over their graves, along with facts about their lives.

Imagine looking into a film drawer at the Family History Library and seeing the titles of the films overlaid on the tops of the boxes. Or seeing the film you want marked in red.

Imagine little balloons pop up over people’s heads, the balloons containing their names and their relationships to you, such as 5th cousin, 12th cousin twice removed, and so forth. Or seeing names of common relatives or common research interests.

The technology to automatically identify ancestors in photographs is a little immature right now. But it will come. To prepare, make certain you scan photographs with enough resolution so that when the technology comes, you will be ready.


  1. It's fun imagining this. Kind of like in the new Sherlock Holmes productions that they are showing now. However, my cynical mind says it is far more likely that these pop-ups will say, buy this. What an advertising opportunity!

  2. What kind of resolution are we talking here??

  3. Sarnia -- I would say a minimum of 600 dpi.


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