There’s a conspiracy theory circulating at the moment that the Instagram filters you can use to make your face look like a rabbit are based on facial recognition software developed by the CIA*. I don’t know if this is true or not. I certainly am unsure why grownups want to make themselves look like animals or fairies, but they’re not doing me any harm, so I sadly shake my head and let them get on with it.
Here’s the thing, though. Facial recognition software doesn’t work except for the intelligence services, because it doesn’t do what we civvies need it to do.
I’m very good with faces. I can recognise them with relative ease. A few months ago I bumped into somebody I’d not seen in over four years, and clocked his face straight out of the hat, even though in the meantime he’d shaved his head and grown a full-on Rasputin beard, a combination that, as I have said before, makes the wearer look as if they put their head on upside down when they got dressed this morning.
I knew where I knew him from. I knew where he worked. I knew the department he worked in. I knew the face of his supervisor. However, I was totally unable to put a name to the face, because there’s a majestic disconnect in my head between names and faces.
There are some indications that we process visual information, such as faces, in a different part of the brain from where we process verbal information, such as names. This wasn’t the case for my aunt, who suffered brain damage through childhood meningitis, but had an almost eidetic memory for people. She could name their parents, siblings, cousins, you name, she could recall it. I, alas, cannot do that.
Here’s what I need from facial recognition software. I need really useful information. Something along the lines of, ‘Oh yes, you know her. That’s your ex’s best mate from school, you know, Diana Montague**.’ Now that really would be a breakthrough.
I don’t need to spot potential baddies at an airport. I need a set of Google Glasses that can help me not go, ‘I’m really sorry, I can’t remember your name.’ I’ve been reduced to that on many an occasion.
*I bet even the CIA would be flummoxed by Donatella Versace’s transformation from relative normality to botoxed, skin-filled weirdness.
**I had some exes with posh friends.