Robertson, D. J., Kramer, R. S. S., & Burton, A. M. (2015). Face averages enhance user recognition for smartphone security. PLoS ONE, 10(3), e0119460.

Our recognition of familiar faces is excellent, and generalises across viewing conditions. However, unfamiliar face recognition is much poorer. For this reason, automatic face recognition systems might benefit from incorporating the advantages of familiarity. Here we put this to the test using the face verification system available on a popular smartphone (the Samsung Galaxy). In two experiments we tested the recognition performance of the smartphone when it was encoded with an individual’s ‘face-average’ – a representation derived from theories of human face perception. This technique significantly improved performance for both unconstrained celebrity images (Experiment 1) and for real faces (Experiment 2): users could unlock their phones more reliably when the device stored an average of the user’s face than when they stored a single image. This advantage was consistent across a wide variety of everyday viewing conditions. Furthermore, the benefit did not reduce the rejection of imposter faces. This benefit is brought about solely by consideration of suitable representations for automatic face recognition, and we argue that this is just as important as development of matching algorithms themselves. We propose that this representation could significantly improve recognition rates in everyday settings.

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