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Hiding from machines

June 7, 2012

Will the increased time spent under the gaze of cameras, surveillance (it is said that there is over five minutes of footage of each Londoner per day), commercial, amateur or otherwise change the way people look in the years to come? While such prophesies might later become parody material, a recent project called CV Dazzle seems to suggest that lens evasion might instigate new looks. While Dazzle camouflage painting schemes were used on battleships in WWI to avoid recognition through optical devices of the enemy, CV Dazzle aims to avoid digital facial recognition in the age of global surveillance. It is a form of “expressive interference that combines makeup and hair styling with face-detection thwarting designs” according to the project’s webpage and it makes the face undetectable by face-recognition algorithms used in cameras and online environments such as social networks and image sharing websites. It operates through aesthetic devices that disrupt the function of face-detection algorithms that look for certain rectangular relations that suggest the existence of a human face in the field covered by the lens. CV Dazzle suggest that, for instance, as upper cheeks and nosebridge are the lighter areas on the face, darkening and obscuring those areas will disrupt the program, while most traditional forms of makeup such as emphasizing the darkness around the eyes with eye shadow or eyeliner makes the face more perceptible to face detection.

An article on the project provides the following guidelines below to deceive digital face recognition:

“1. Avoid enhancers – They amplify key facial features.

2. Partially obscure the nosebridge area – The region where the nose, eyes, and forehead intersect is a key facial feature.

3. Partially obscure the ocular region – The position and darkness of eyes is a key facial feature.

4. Remain inconspicuous – For camouflage to function, it must not be perceived as a mask or disguise.”

Adam Harvey, Collaboration with DIS Magazine

Similar to the countershading effect in the animals, the idea is to inverse the face, turning the face into an anti-face. The project is an instance of how computer vernaculars affect the body and our living environments at large. One might conclude that to avoid machine recognition, one needs to become anti-human.

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