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Face recognition tech claims to identify terrorists

Thu 26 May 2016

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After last week’s furore around FindFace, the popular Russian app which allows users to photograph strangers in public and figure out their identities, an Israeli startup is now stepping up the debate with its own facial trait recognition technology.

Tel Aviv-based firm Faception claims 80% accuracy in identifying facial characteristics and has declared a particular skill for the identification of terrorists. CEO Shai Gilboa confirmed that the software has already attracted the interest of a homeland security agency.

As well as its contested terrorist identifier capabilities, Faception is also designed to identify a variety of different traits common to individuals such as paedophiles, top poker players, extroverts, and people with high IQs.

Gilboa, who is also the company’s chief ethics officer, told The Washington Post: “We understand the human much better than other humans understand each other. Our personality is determined by our DNA and reflected in our face. It’s a kind of signal.”

Founded in 2014, the startup showcased its facial trait spotting technology at a 500 Startups-funded accelerator conference in Mountain View, California, last week. One demonstration saw the technology scan 50 participants at a poker contest and select four as the top players. Two of the four chosen by Faception placed in the top three of the competition.

While Gilboa argues that the trait classifiers will never be revealed publicly, critics have warned that there are significant ethical concerns around the technology. University of Washington computer science professor Pedro Domingos asked the Post: “Can I predict that you’re an axe murderer by looking at your face and therefore should I arrest you?”

Alexander Todorov, a Princeton psychology professor whose research specialises in facial recognition, also told the Post: “The evidence that there is accuracy in these judgments is extremely weak… Just when we thought that physiognomy ended 100 years ago. Oh, well.”

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