This Software Looks At Your Face, Knows Your Name

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My brother John just has that John look about him. He’s just got that…you know, weird John look. Could you tell looking at him? I don’t know, probably not. (And I wouldn’t recommend it.) But you know what probably could? New software, created at Cornell University, can take a look at your face and take an educated guess on what your name is. That’s right, it’s profiling you. Because it’s not enough to empower robots with cloud intelligence or crime prediction — now we’re letting them collect our faces. What can go wrong?

Actually, it seems harmless enough.

Research scientist Andrew Gallagher insisted, “First names are not given to babies at random,” suggesting that parents name their kids according to a slew of cultural factors, like gender, ethnicity, and of course popular names of the day.

Gallagher’s team used Flickr to build a database of names and faces, then trained their computer to recognize said factors. In one example, Alejandras tended toward darker skin and hair than Heathers. While Daryls and Carls, I’m guessing, were probably younger than Hershels and Dales.

The Cornell team tested the system using faces associated with the top 100 names in the United States. Their computer guessed the correct name 4% of the time, which isn’t great, but it’s three times better than people just guessing.

So the system is a bit rough, but Gallagher intends to expand the database to include all U.S. names — that’s right, including yours if you’re American — and believes — with improvements — it’ll be able to accurately harvest names from online photos. He intends to present this work at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Portland this June.

There are skeptics, of course. Kevin Bowyer of the University of Notre Dame said, “I don’t quite buy [that] there is a distinctive ‘Heather’ face,” but he admits that there could be commercial applications for such software.

So you tell me. Do these guys look like Johns or what?

Left: John Harington (inventor of the flush toilet).Right: John LaSala (user of the flush toilet).

(via New Scientist, images courtesy of my brother John, Wikipedia, and davidinmanhattan on Flickr)

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