Blending in, photo by @turutututuu

A Primer for Facial Recognition Technologies

A summary of the primer by the Algorithmic Justice League

I recently read a document that summarised well some of the current challenges within facial recognition technology. It was a short and concise document, still I thought to myself it might be useful to make a shorter summary.

Facial Recognition Technologies: A Primer provides a basic introduction to the terminology, applications, and difficulties of evaluating these complex technologies.

This primer is meant to accompany our white paper, Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office

The Algorithmic Justice League combine art and research to illuminate the social implications and harms of AI.

The Algorithmic Justice League aims to:

So what is facial recognition technology or FTR for short?

They define Facial Recognition Technologies (FRTs) to be a set of digital tools used to perform tasks on images or videos of human faces.

These tools can be grouped into three broad categories depending upon the question they answer.

Face detection. Face detection is the process of detecting the presence of faces and 1 locating those faces in an image or video (see Figure 1).

Software can be developed to assess the attributes of a person from their face.

Face attribute classification: when these attributes have been separated into distinct categories, such as gender, race, or ethnicity, this may be called face attribute classification.

Face attribute estimation: when the attribute is a number, like an age, the term face attribute estimation is more appropriate.

Face attribute detection: software to detect and locate accessories like glasses and scarves or face attributes like beards or moustaches.

Emotion, affect, and facial expression classification. Facial recognition technologies can be used to classify facial expressions, such as “smile,” “frown,” or “scowl.” They can also be used for the closely related problem of inferring the emotional state or affect of a person, such as “happy,” “sad,” or “angry.”

“It is important to keep in mind that many systems that claim to do emotion recognition have really been developed to recognize specific facial expressions (as performed by paid actors), not to detect the subtle cues that may reveal a person’s underlying emotional state.”

Two subtly different types of recognition, referred to as:

Where is FTR used?

The short report mentions that FTR is being used in several place already.

As such there is now a wide application, at least in the US, that can necessitate some reflection on the components of the technology. They list the following five components as important:

So then, what is the possible result?

How accurate is FTR?

There are different way to evaluate this and the report lists a few.

“…seemingly small error rates can still have a negative impact on a substantial number of individuals.”

With a 1 in 500 error rate for example:

“…a working population of 2 million people, this would result in approximately 4, 000 false matches per day.”

They argue an important question remains:

“…what are effective alternatives to using benchmarks and metrics in order to decide if a specific facial recognition technology is appropriate for deployment for a particular application in a targeted population?”

There is a need for questions that go beyond accuracy and technical considerations.

A wide range of issues need to be deal with, such as:

“In some cases, in certain contexts or for particular applications, the use of FRTs will not be justified regardless of accuracy.”

A sign at a black lives matter protest in Atlanta, photo by @mcoswalt

Therefore oversight or regulation might otherwise be considered.

They explore this further in an accompanying white paper called Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office.

I would recommend reading both texts in full, however I hope this short summary was helpful to spark your interest.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 397. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own.