Google, once again, is excited about social media. But not in the ways you might think; this isnât about another in a failed string of chat apps, or the knockout success that never was in Google Plus. Instead, itâs an entirely new way of recognizing human faces, and one made possible by â you guessed it â creeping on your social media profiles.
In a recently approved patent, Google detailed a system of âFacial Recognition with Social Network Aiding.â Itâs exactly what it sounds like, an attempt to parse social connections as a way to better identify your mug.
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Reverse Image Search works by attempting to match visual cues in photos with other, similar photos. It works mostly as intended, with some results being dead-on, and others complete misses. But as long as the photo is well-lit, and is of a high enoughÂ resolution, Google usually nails it.
Its a system that works, but could use improvement. Sometimes the results are only semi-relevant, and for those who donât have as much data to pull from, it often overlooks matches entirely. Grab your friend Katie from middle schoolâs Facebook photo, for example. Chances are it only returns the Facebook account using the photo.
But the new system envisions a world where artificial intelligence would identify faces using not only visual cues, but various forms of data from personal communications, social networks, collaborative apps, and even your calendar.
Itâs like this
Users enter a âvisual queryâ in the form of a photo, screenshot or scanned image. The system would then analyze the image and look â using advanced image recognition â for others that are both visually similar, and a potential match using the data sources mentioned above.
Rather than just matching based on visual cues â Googleâs current system â the software would take additional steps to build further confidence in the personâs identity. Pulling from a number of data sources, including your hometown, age, occupation, and various others, Google would strive to be absolutely sureÂ it returns images relevant to your query,Â based partially on the data it pulled from your social accounts and otherÂ collaborative apps.
Letâs attempt to wrap our head around this with a real example. Inputting an image of Amanda, from accounting, for example, should lead to relevant results with the new software due to a number of connections between you, the searcher, and her, the subject of your search. Youâre connected by your employer, youâre friends on Facebook, and she routinely retweets you on Twitter. To Google, these all build confidence that Amandaâs image is indeed the one youâre looking for.
Or maybe youâd search for a childhood friend, Jeff. The same reasoning follows: youâre connected by your hometown, your high school, and an approximate age range.
Where the patent falls short is in detailing exactly how Google would use the technology. We can be fairly sure that Reverse Image Search and Google Photos would benefit. The latter, due to some wording that describes automatically sharing a group photo and tagging everyone in it.
But itâs other, less obvious use cases that could be worrisome. If Google were to bring back Glass, for example. Or if it were to reverse course and continue to provide artificial intelligence to the military. If youâre looking for a tinfoil hat example, that exists too; Google could begin feeding this data to law enforcement, like Amazon.
Rekognition, Amazonâs feature-rich AI, provides real-time facial recognition to a handful of police departments in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon. Itâs not difficult to envision a competing product from Google.
The patent does note that in certain scenarios â scenarios Google fails to define â a person would have to opt-in to have their identify appear in these results. For now, it appears that weâre in the clear. But since this is only a patent, and not working software â to the best of our knowledge â things could change quickly.
Itâs something to keep an eye on, but we certainly wouldnât lose any sleep over it. At least not yet.
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