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Cover image for Facial Recognition Technology - A Brief Introduction
Matthew S.
Matthew S.

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Facial Recognition Technology - A Brief Introduction

Facial recognition has for the most part, been around for a long time. Many of us have seen it displayed in movies, and some of us use it in everyday situations, like when we use it to unlock our smartphones. Ever wonder what facial recognition is and how it works? I'll go over the basic concepts of what it is, how it works, and how the technology is currently being used today. I will also cover the issues and growing concerns the public has about its use.

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is a way that biometric software scans an individual's facial features and stores it as data. Facial recognition technology uses that biometric software to compare those facial features to a database of videos or pictures.

How the Technology Works

You might be wondering how facial recognition technology actually works. We can pretty much breakdown the process into some simple steps without going into too much detail. First off, we need to start with a photograph or picture. The biometric software takes that photograph and breaks it down into many sections or blocks. You can think of it like a square grid. It then runs an algorithm on those blocks or grid to determine if there is a face in the picture. The software compares multiple conditions including if one block is darker or lighter than the other.

Once a face is confirmed, the software measures the many facial features of that face. I like to think of it as playing a game of connect the dots, but on your face. These measurements could include the distance between the eyes or the distance between the chin and forehead just to name a couple.

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All those measurements are then converted into a mathematical formula which gives the image a sort of unique facial identifier or signature.

The facial identifier is compared to a database of photographs and videos. The software looks through these images, which are usually collected from the internet or public files, to find a match.

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The Many Ways It Can Be Used

One of the more popular ways facial recognition is used is for authentication purposes. Phones now have the software that allows users to scan their face while setting up their phones just like you would a password. The users only have to look at their phone's camera in order for the screen to be unlocked. Some phone applications have also adopted the technology as a way to bypass the steps of putting in a username or password.

Law enforcement has used Facial recognition to assist with their investigations. Specifically, facial recognition has been used to help in the search of missing persons and when law enforcement is looking for suspects of various crimes.

Facial recognition can be found in some airports where they use it for security and efficiency. The technology could identify criminals or terrorists due to having access to a large database.

In the retail industry, some companies have used facial recognition to help better serve customers and give them a better experience. One example includes a bar that uses facial recognition to hold information of that customer's favorite drinks and menu items. When the customer arrives at the bar, the staff could immediately inform them of menu recommendations based off of previous orders.


All the things I mentioned above about the capabilities of the technology sound pretty great, right? Well, as advanced as the software and tech may be, there are some privacy and ethical concerns related to the use of the technology.

Remember that the software compares a facial signature to a database of videos and pictures. That database is made up of images gathered from the internet and public files. Most of this facial data can be collected without the individual's permission and the lack of regulations on the technology has just added to the public concern.

The accuracy of the technology also comes in question when related to use by law enforcement. Studies of the technology's use have revealed facial recognition software produces more errors and false positive results when trying to read darker skinned individuals.

These rising concerns and public pushback have caused some facial recognition software companies to restrict access of who can use their software.

Final Thoughts

Facial recognition technology has come along way since its origin, and I have no doubt will become more prevalent in years to come. While I know the technology has room for improvement, the possibilities the software can provide could help in numerous industries such as healthcare, security, transportation, and retail. We just need to wait for the laws and regulations to catch up with the technology to keep it safe for all.



Interesting Engineer


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