By Noah Shachtman
There’s software that’s smart enough to recognize people by their faces, or by their irises. But those algorithms are finicky. To work properly, subjects usually have to be willing to play along — looking straight into the camera, when the light is just right.
The new uber-geek arm of American spy agencies, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, is looking to change that. Researchers there want to do iris and face-scans from far away, and “under uncontrolled acquisition conditions.” So they’re launching a new project, “Biometrics Exploitation Science and Technology” (BEST) to find new ways to get this face and eye data, even when the subject is moving and the lighting is all wrong.
“The minimum objective is to exceed by a factor of three what is commercially available today, with recognition performance similar to that achieved with the cooperative or conditioned individual under controlled acquisition,” a recent announcement to industry notes.
A recent meeting in Virginia to discuss the project drew more than 130 researchers and executives. Many were from well-established defense contractors, like General Electric, Harris, Batelle, and Raytheon. Others were from less conventional firms. Take Conway, New Hampshire’s Animetrics Inc., which is trotting out a “portable face recognition” program for the iPhone, called iFace. In addition to wooing spies, the company has a commercial edition of the software. “iFace Celebrity Edition…. match[es] you to your most similar celebrity,” the company promises. “The elegant simplicity of the iPhone makes this application both easy to use and very fun… The iFace output of the top celebrities who resemble your face will be popular among social networkers.” There’s no mention of whether the celebrity-matching game was played at the spy agency’s confab.