When It Comes to Facial Recognition, Caricatures Beat Photos


We have a little saying around here—If the Hamburg Data Protection Authority doesn't like it, we don't like it either. What the HDPA doesn't like these days is the new facial recognition feature embedded in Facebook's new photo-tagging software, which is creepily known as "suggested automatic tagging." They claim it violates privacy laws because it's too invasive and collects data without proper authorization (i.e.—automatically). What they should be more concerned about, perhaps, is people posting caricatures of other people to their Facebook. Allow Wired to explain.

An article in the latest issue examines a scientifically proven phenomenon called "the caricature effect," which is a field of vision science that suggests a caricature "looks more like a person than the person himself." What our brains look for, when we seek to identify someone, or memorize their face, are outlier features that exist somewhere beyond the norm of characteristics we subconsciously associate with an ideal face. Those tiny little imperfections or distinctive irregularities that make us unique help people recognize who we are. It is these visual cues that are most useful for recognizing people, and since caricatures accentuate and embellish these putative aberrations, they make us more readily identifiable.

The article explains why facial recognition technology has been so slow to advance, in terms of its level of accuracy, despite decades of experimentation dedicated to its perfection. National security officials salivate over the possibility of equipping cameras in public places with facial recognition technology, in order to track/locate known criminals. The problem is, it's really hard to get this equipment to work properly because computers and their attendant algorithms obviously aren't human, and lack the benefit of the caricature effect. It's an interesting read, which includes a trip to the annual convention of the International Society of Caricature Artists, and caricatures of the author useful for (ahem) illustration of the subject.

Anyone remember those tee shirts that featured professional athletes with giant caricature heads? I used to have a Bo Jackson one that I liked a lot. What do you think of the caricature effect—spot on, or total bunk?