MyHeritage.com puts a new face on face recognition

The celebrity I most resemble is Dominic Monaghan -- at least according to the Web site MyHeritage.com. The site calculates that resemblance at 68%, mind you. OK. I can see it. Maybe I have Hobbit blood. (I guess I should add that I also bear a reported 62% resemblance to Jerry Bruckheimer.)

Launched in its beta form two weeks ago, MyHeritage.com is built atop the company's face-recognition software, with a nifty Flash UI. One of the site's clever tricks is, it lets you upload a mugshot of yourself (or anyone, for that matter; the pic should be large, and the subject should be forward-facing. The site recommends the subject should not be smiling, but my girlfriend reports getting preferable results with a smiling shot).

Once the picture is uploaded, the application analyzes it, then searches through an extensive database of some 3,200 famous people of past and present. Within moments, it delivers the names and photos of those you (or whoever's photo you uploaded) most resemble. (Proceed with caution; it can be a little addicting.)

Mind you, the purpose of the site isn't to shatter your ego by pointing out your 97% resemblance to Steve Buscemi (whose work I very much enjoy, by the way) or Carrot Top (no comment); as the company's name suggests, MyHeritage.com is intended for family history research. Here's how Gilad Japhet, the CEO of the Tel Aviv, Israel-based company, explains it: "Teach the system what your relatives look like by providing a few examples, and we may just find additional photos of your ancestors that other users have contributed, including photos you've never seen before. We may even find photos of your ancestors, based on facial similarity to your family members."

Another possibility: "We'll just find someone on the other side of the globe who looks just like you." Very useful; you may finally be able to prove that it was, indeed, your evil twin who was getting you in trouble all along.

Of course, being the enterprise-technology-minded InfoWorlder that I am, I wondered how face-recognition techonology is coming along for more enterprise-oriented applications, like security. Are we nearing the point that a company can run cameras throughout HQ, making sure the wrong people aren't going where they're not supposed to? Can airport security keep an automatic watchful eye at the ticket counter to discover whether one of America's most wanted is booking a flight to Guatemala?

Not quite, says Japhet. Though face-recognition technology has been in the works for some seven years, "it has several known problems in the security and law enforcement markets: It works well in lab conditions but not so well outdoors in uncontrolled environments with inconsistent lighting. It works well on frontal faces, but it is not very successful with angled, posed faces, and with facial expressions. It is prone to false positives. It is also not difficult to reduce its effectiveness by changing facial hair and glasses. This is why there still isn't massive and widespread use of this technology for security and law enforcement and face recognition cameras are still seldom seen in many crowded locations."

OK, fair enough. The consumer-oriented uses, such as simplified photo-sorting, are still useful. I just have to face the reality that, for now, when I go to the airport, I'm still going to be stuck carrying around that driver's license with the god-awful photo. (My resemblance to Dominic Monaghan just isn't strong enough to paste his pic over mine.)

But perhaps through MyHeritage.com, I can find someone out there who's in the same boat.

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies