Welcome to Project Janus
While great strides have been made in facial recognition, it's still afar from perfect. People laugh, frown, and yawn. They stand at odd angles to cameras. They put on sunglasses and hats. Now, a new US intelligence project aims to conquer those problems, in a four year program dubbed Janus.
The program is being set up by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), who are looking for a way to better recognize faces that might be shot from imperfect angles, or in motion. Here's how the project is described:
Intelligence analysts often rely on facial images to assist in establishing the identity of an individual, but the sheer volume of possibly relevant video and photographs can be daunting. While automated face recognition tools can assist analysts in this task, current tools perform best on well-posed, frontal facial photos taken for identification purposes. Janus aims to fill this gap by developing tools and techniques to significantly improve the performance of face recognition on unconstrained video and photos.
IARPA seeks dramatic improvements in unconstrained face recognition by funding rigorous, high-quality research drawing on a variety of fields to develop novel representations to encode the shape, texture, and dynamics of a face, and new ways to use these techniques for faster and more accurate search and retrieval. Instead of relying on a "single best frame approach," these representations shall make use of all available imagery. The program will conduct empirical testing of recognition performance across datasets. The program must also deal with ambiguities and uncertainties due to incomplete data and partial representations.
Janus is set to run over four years, starting in 2014. If successful, it would mean that US intelligence agencies would be able to run advanced facial recognition over huge number of people, even if conditions or angles of the recording are less than ideal.
Using facial recognition over large scale data like this is bound to raise some privacy hackles. As pointed out by NetworkWorld, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is currently trying to gain information about the FBI's biometric identification systems.
But if the military is working on this, you know it's only a matter of time before the private industry matches it. Facebook might end up getting much better at spotting your friends in a photo before too long.