Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's in a Face?

We've just upgraded iPhoto on our computer and are in the process of organizing our photos by people, not just events and dates.  With thousands of faces to sort out, it is a bit of a time consuming effort, but once we get it up and running it should be easy to maintain, and a breeze to find just the right photo.

This morning while I sat for nearly an hour, identifying people who appeared on my computer screen, I found it comical that the program had so much trouble recognizing some folks -- like my husband, my boys, and me!  Lots and lots of pictures of us, but if someone had a hat on, a hood up, a goofy smile,
iPhoto didn't seem to have any idea who we were!  Sometimes it took a stab at naming someone.  Occasionally it was right; more often it made me laugh.  Was my brother with a beard me?  Was my son my sister-in-law?  It kept getting my dad and my father-in-law mixed up.  And people who don't even know each other were given the other's name.

It reminded me of a study that Samuel participated in several years ago at the University of Washington related to face recognition.  It was designed to study how people on the autism spectrum process information.  For all of Samuel's ability to grasp and recall information, face recognition is difficult for him.

I've seen that in myself some, too.  Just the other day I was at Haggen and saw a dear friend out of the corner of my eye.  But she doesn't live in the area, so I couldn't make the face of the woman I saw quite match my friend's face.  I would have passed her by except that she saw me too.  What a happy reunion we had!

I'm realizing how much context has to do with our ability to recognize people's faces.  The computer zooms in on one face out of a crowd, and I flounder. Sometimes I need the setting for clues.

Tom the artist seems to have no trouble remembering a face.  I guess it's just in the way we're wired.

Our computer is wired for data.  It's pulling together information from each of those photos it has already identified and is eventually going to be able to recognize a picture of me, no matter the hairstyle or age.  I've still got 3000 photos to identify; I hope it catches on soon.

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