Human plus machine – face recognition at its best

May 29, 2018 by Deborah Smith, University of New South Wales
Human plus machine – face recognition at its best
Do these two faces show the same person? Credit: J. Stoughton/NIST

The first study to compare performances of trained facial examiners, super-recognisers, and facial-recognition algorithms, has revealed a combination of human and computer decision-making is most accurate.

The first study to compare the performances of trained forensic facial examiners, people known as super-recognisers who have a natural talent for face identification, and facial-recognition computer algorithms, has revealed that a combination of human and computer decision-making is most accurate.

The study, by a team of scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US and three universities including UNSW Sydney, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Experts in face identification often play a crucial role in criminal cases," says study team member, UNSW psychologist Dr. David White.

"Deciding whether two images are of the same person, or two different people, can have profound consequences.

"When facial comparison evidence is presented in court, it can determine the outcome of a criminal trial. Errors on these decisions can potentially set a guilty person free, or wrongly convict an innocent person," he says.

The international study involved a total of 184 participants from five continents—a large number for an experiment of this type.

Eighty-seven were trained professional facial examiners, while 13 were super-recognisers—people with exceptional natural ability, but no training. The remaining 84 were control participants with no special training or natural ability, including 53 fingerprint examiners and 31 undergraduate students.

Participants received pairs of face images and rated the likelihood of each pair being the same person on a seven-point scale. The research team intentionally selected extremely challenging pairs, using images taken with limited control of illumination, expression and appearance.

They then tested four of the latest computerised facial recognition algorithms, all developed between 2015 and 2017, using the same image pairs.

"As a group, trained forensic examiners outperformed the other groups," says Dr. White.

"Another important insight from the study was that the most advanced facial-recognition algorithms are now as accurate as the very best humans.

"However, the results with people showed large variation in accuracy of individuals in all the groups tested. This ranged from near random guessing, with an accuracy of about 50%, to a perfect score of 100%.

"This variability is a problem, because it is common practice for just one examiner to present decisions in court," says Dr. White.

The study found that combining several examiners' opinions produced higher accuracy than one examiner working alone, and led to less variability in accuracy compared to individual responses.

"But the surprising best solution to the problem of individual variability is to combine the responses from one examiner with the responses from the best . A combination of human and computer decision-making leads to the most accurate results," Dr. White says.

Explore further: Study shows face recognition experts perform better with AI as partner

More information: P. Jonathon Phillips el al., "Face recognition accuracy of forensic examiners, superrecognizers, and face recognition algorithms," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1721355115

Related Stories

Study shows face recognition experts perform better with AI as partner

May 28, 2018
Experts at recognizing faces often play a crucial role in criminal cases. A photo from a security camera can mean prison or freedom for a defendant—and testimony from highly trained forensic face examiners informs the jury ...

Forensic examiners pass the face matching test

September 1, 2015
The first study to test the skills of FBI agents and other law enforcers who have been trained in facial recognition has provided a reassuring result - they perform better than the average person or even computers on this ...

Multi-racial facial recognition system provides more accurate results, study says

November 6, 2017
A multi-racial facial recognition system delivers more accurate results than those typically used today, a new study published in Pattern Recognition journal has revealed.

Facial expressions can cause us problems in telling unfamiliar faces apart

June 2, 2017
Using hundreds of faces of actors from movies, psychologists from the University of Bristol have shown how facial expressions can get in the way of our ability to tell unfamiliar faces apart.

Recommended for you

Psychiatric disorders share an underlying genetic basis

June 21, 2018
Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often run in families. In a new international collaboration, researchers explored the genetic connections between these and other disorders of the brain at ...

One year of school comes with an IQ bump, meta-analysis shows

June 21, 2018
A year of schooling leaves students with new knowledge, and it also equates with a small but noticeable increase to students' IQ, according to a systematic meta-analysis published in Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Ketamine acts fast to treat depression and its effects last—but how?

June 21, 2018
In contrast to most antidepressant medications, which can take several weeks to reduce depressive symptoms, ketamine—a commonly used veterinary anesthetic—can lift a person out of a deep depression within minutes of its ...

New study debunks Dale Carnegie advice to 'put yourself in their shoes'

June 21, 2018
Putting yourself in someone else's shoes and relying on intuition or "gut instinct" isn't an accurate way to determine what they're thinking or feeling," say researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), the ...

Mindful movement may help lower stress, anxiety

June 21, 2018
Taking a walk may be a good opportunity to mentally review your to-do list, but using the time to instead be more mindful of your breathing and surroundings may help boost your wellbeing, according to researchers.

Brain tingles—first study of its kind reveals physiological benefits of ASMR

June 21, 2018
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) – the relaxing 'brain tingles' experienced by some people in response to specific triggers, such as whispering, tapping and slow hand movements – may have benefits for both ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.