Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For? Machine Learning and Facial Recognition

To many of us, the concepts of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning seem foreign and strange. They’re something we see in the news or on college campuses, or read about in Science Fiction, but not things we encounter in our everyday lives. The truth is, however, many of us are reaping the benefits of Machine Learning, perhaps without even realizing it.

One application of Machine Learning that we’re all familiar with is facial recognition. The concept of facial recognition is one that, in the past, has been associated with security cameras and police forces-that is, not available to the civilian. With advances in AI leading to Machine Learning, however, facial recognition is not only more accurate but more widely available. Users of Facebook are probably familiar with the application’s ‘tag a friend’ feature-since their addition of facial recognition, not only does it bring up photos from your albums for you to tag friends in, but it zeroes in on their faces and gives you a suggestion of who to tag. I remember when this feature was new and not always accurate, but these days, Facebook seems to know my friends better than I do.

Another application of facial recognition that is putting the technology into more hands is Apple’s Face ID. The iPhone X is equipped with Apple’s machine learning algorithms so that your personal device can learn to recognize your face specifically and unlock the device at recognition.

While facial recognition is becoming a source of convenience in our lives, it’s also having serious, positive implications in the world at large. Perhaps the most powerful uses of facial recognition are the ways in which it is being used to combat crime, particularly that of human trafficking. Thorn is using machine learning to identify advertisements for children being trafficked online, and the organization is using facial recognition that can recognize a missing child even after significant time has passed.[1]

From social media to social justice, facial recognition is impacting our lives in a very real way.  It’s pretty cool to see Facebook recognizing our friends, but seeing a software identify and rescue kids long after they’ve gone missing is nothing short of A-I-mazing.

[1] Asquith, Christina. “How tech companies are trying to combat trafficking.” PRI. https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-03-06/how-tech-companies-are-trying-combat-child-trafficking. (2/2/18)

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