Private Eyes Are Watching You

Rob Jenkins, a psychology professor at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, may have found at least one way around the technology's inaccuracies. Jenkins and his colleague Mike Burton published a study in the journal Science in January that outlined a method to get 100 percent accuracy from computers by using what the researchers called an "averaged" face image, made up of 20 photos.

"The great thing about this averaging process is it just washes out all these differences of single photographs. The lighting and the pose all kind of becomes neutralized," Jenkins told in January. "And what you're just left with is the core of the face. The aspects of the image are consistent from one photo to the next."

Since that study, police, governments and companies have shown interest in his research, Jenkins said. And although he is interested more in how the mind recognizes faces than how the technology is used, as a citizen, he finds the ubiquity of CCTV troubling.

"New technologies that are being unveiled as being the solution to problems -- often they're just a better key to locking and unlocking something, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't think about what's behind the door," he said. "Because if you put all this trust in a new technology, ... you can find yourself in quite a hairy situation."

Jenkins points out that sometimes even humans can't recognize familiar faces.

"The human brain is the most sophisticated computer we know of," he said. "Engineers are setting themselves [up] with a very difficult problem by demanding accurate performance. Even humans can't do this reliably and should give us pause. … Is the goal a realistic goal? Are we ever going to build a machine that can do that? And maybe we will, but I think it's a question that's worth asking."

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