A Face in the Crowd: Say goodbye to anonymity

Even if your picture isn't on the Internet, computerized facial recognition makes it virtually impossible to keep your "faceprint" private

The following is a script from "A Face in the Crowd" which aired on May 19, 2013. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.

Over the last 10 years, the ability of computers to identify faces has gotten 100 times better, a million times faster, and exponentially cheaper.

Yet facial recognition technology is still a work in progress. While investigators in the Boston marathon bombing had multiple images of both suspects, the technology did not come up with a match. They were not identified by their faces, but by their fingerprints! Authorities won't say what went wrong. One possibility is that government data banks - through which the photos would've been searched - are not big enough.

As we discovered, the FBI is working on expanding its database. Businesses are tapping facial recognition to sell us stuff and computer scientists are upgrading the technology.

[Lesley Stahl: So, here it comes! Oh my.]

This may look like a high school science project, but this is Carnegie Mellon's CyLab, a world-class research center.

[Lesley Stahl: Look at that!]

Marios Savvides and his students outfitted this ordinary toy drone with their new advanced facial recognition software... that locks in on a face from a distance, and then identifies it.

[Drone: Hello Lesley, nice to see you.

Lesley Stahl: It got it.]

The students are taking surveillance technology to the next level. They can now turn a blurry face into a clear one; a flat image into a 3D model.

[Lesley Stahl: Oh my goodness.]

Their technology can take a masked face and by focusing only on the eyebrows search a catalog of faces, come up with several people with very similar eyebrows and eventually find the identity of the person.

Marios Savvides: So Utzav is going to take a normal photo of you.

The software maps a face using dots like electronic measles and creates something as unique as a fingerprint: a faceprint.

Lesley Stahl: This is your facial recognition technology working right now to find me?

Utzav: Yes.

For this demonstration, they had added my picture ahead of time to the university's database.

Marios Savvides: That's the top match.

[Samsung Lady: To use face recognition, use the color-coded button on your remote.]

Facial recognition is already in some of our home appliances like TVs. In our mobile devices, PINs and passwords are giving way to faceprints. And the technology can single us out in real-time as we go about our daily business, often without us ever knowing.

Joseph Atick: What's unique about face recognition is the fact that you can do it surreptitiously, from a distance, and continually.

Lesley Stahl: It can happen-- we don't even know.

Joseph Atick: That's the point.

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes

Comments