Next phase for Face Recognition and AR

October 5, 2011

It is already over two years ago that The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) launched their concept of a social network application which was powered by face recognition. The idea: point your mobile device at a person and see all their social network connections floating around their face, as a kind of social network aura.

This concept movie triggered a lot of interest, both favorable and worried reactions (big brother…). Many people took it even literal and were expecting that such an app was around the corner and soon available for their Android or iPhone.

In reality the technology was not ready for this type of application yet, and TAT has been acquired by RIM since and works on mobile UI development instead.

So… can we conclude that mobile face recognition with all of its interesting social implications was just a dream?

Not at all, as a very interesting paper from a group of Carnegie Mellon University researchers describes in great detail (presented at the BlackHat USA conference, this August).

The paper is titled Faces of Facebook: Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality (PDF) and describes a series of experimental setups where personal information about unsuspecting people was retrieved from public accessible sources on the internet, based on a webcam snapshot of their face. In the current, limited setup only publicly available Facebook profile images were used for reference but it is easily imaginable that many, many more sources of reference images can be used.

Also, for now the matching process takes some time (a couple of seconds at least) which makes the real-time, online application not feasible yet, but with the pace of technology we can expect that this is only a matter of time before the application will be optimized to run in near real-time.

There is a lot more to it, the researchers’ Face Recognition FAQ provides interesting background information.

For us the real interesting question is: how will this technology be used? A lot of applications come to mind, many of them scary and maybe unwanted, but personally I would really like to be able to set my Social Network Aura and adapt it to the situation just like the guy in the TAT video does before going to college.

Now combine that with AR glasses and we’re in for some real new social experience…


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