Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Facial recognition and doppelgängers

I know I bear an uncanny resemblance to at least two people I've never met. Or it might be the same person.

The first time I was made aware of this was in an obscure south London pub a few years ago. A bloke approached our small group with great familiarity but it was my shoulder he squeezed and me he greeted with a grinning "Allright, mate; how's it going"

"Um, very well, thank you" I replied with creased brow, suspecting some upcoming request for money 'for a cup of tea'. A few more words were exchanged.

"It is you" he declared. "You work behind the jump at the Old Donkey".

"Um, no, I'm sorry. You've mistaken me for someone else." He was clearly unconvinced, and getting angry that I was perpetrating an unreasonable joke on him.

The second time was on a train to Lewes. A couple in their sixties in the seats opposite whispered and then smiled and nodded at me in a way that said unmistakeably 'we know who you are'. They didn't look as if they would frequent the Old Donkey, wherever that was. I smiled back. The Mrs ventured "Are you going to do any more adverts?".

There was nothing I could say that would convince them I wasn't an actor who was currently appearing in a TV advert. It would have been easier for me to admit that, yes, it was me, and that my agent had a few things lined up. It would have made them happy. My refusal to admit any relation to the person they were convinced I was irritated them. I think the phrase 'Too good for the likes of us" was murmured and the time between East Croydon and Lewes passed in a glacial agony of avoided glances.

Perhaps my south London barman had turned to acting. Or perhaps he was already an actor just doing bar work. Or perhaps it was two different people. Who knows.

Are machines any better at facial recognition than human beings? The roll-out of FRT to every high street CCTV camera will be here by the end of the decade.

I can only hope the acting / barkeep business continues to pay well, and that my doppelgänger never feels the need to turn to bank robbery.

5 comments:

Alfred the Ordinary said...

Sounds like an excellent pint at your local, that has this effect. Please share the secret.

(I put the incident on the train down to old age - everyone begins to look familiar as you get older, I find)

JPT said...

A mate of mine used to say everyone's got a double - which is plain silly.
That would be say, 2 billion or so people in the world but only 1 billion faces. So to speak.

hatfield girl said...

There is a photograph, published in the Guardian, if memory serves, of South Africa House and the most enormous crowd in front of it, in Trafalgar Square. There I am, absolutely me, even I think I am me, as does everyone who knows me. But I was in another country, in another past. All of us who belong to a clear line of descent look like one another, across and through the generations. My children and their cousins have stepped from rinascimento paintings, as has most of the population of Tuscany.

Rob Farrington said...

My ex used to say that I had a doppelganger. I got to see him once in the street - she was going "That's him, that's him!". I couldn't see the resemblance myself; I have brown hair, while his was more reddish - but maybe he could, from the look of shock when he saw me and our eyes met.

Anyway, there's no way that this technology will work properly. I have no idea what algorithms or other whatnots (sorry for the technical language) that it uses, but it must be based on facial proportions. Any of the techniques I've read about to disguise your appearance and fool humans (such as filling out your cheeks) will surely confuse a computer program, too.

I've just googled 'facial recognition' and apparently, if you wear a scarf or sunglasses, then the system's buggered. And you could always pretend to be a Muslim female and wear a niqab, of course.

Not that the government will ever be dissuaded by something as trivial as facts of course....

Elby the Beserk said...

http://www.hatshopping.com for all your wide-brimmed hat needs. I already possess the extra wide brim Carpenter's hat. Or indeed, a hoody and a laser pencil, which I believe can put CCTVs out of action.