Face It

Law enforcement has been showing faces of the insurgents who attacked the United States Capitol in January 2021. The public is being asked to help identify individuals in the mob. With increasing improvements in smartphone cameras, videos and social networking, the amount of images collected is vast.

“Faces are our primary source for recognizing people and reading their emotional and mental state,” according to Winrich Freiwald, Ph.D. professor of neurosciences and behavior at Rockefeller University New York. Facial recognition is very complicated.

Using a technique — functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)— Freiwald discovered the brain is equipped with specialized nerve cells for facial processing. Combining fMRI with electrophysiological techniques (recordings of electrical activity such as the EEG for the brain), he and his colleagues showed a fixed number of face-selective regions in the brain, each dedicated to a different part of facial recognition. From information received by the eyes, our brains construct our perception of three-dimensional face recognition.

Researchers studying facial recognition, however, often do not agree with each other. For example, when does a baby recognize faces? Some say at two months. Others say seven months or later.

The Rockefeller researchers are more basic. They want to know:

  • How face selectivity emerges in a single cell
  • How information is transformed from one face area to another
  • What contribution each face area makes to different abilities such as recognition of a friend or a smile
  • Recalling details such as a name or an experience with the individual

But what if you can’t identify a face at all, a condition called “prosopagnosia.” It is usually due to damage to the brain area underlying the temple, the Fusiform Gyrus. The inability to recognize a face is prominent in three common conditions:

Alzheimer’s Disease – A type of brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Sadly patients often cannot recognize the faces of family members or friends.

Schizophrenia – A mental disorder with delusions, hallucination, disorganized speech and behavior.

Autism – A developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.

The facial Recognition Researchers may come up with methods to treat those with prosopagnosia. In the meantime, Artificial intelligence is everywhere, from being taught to give out pills, clean the floors, distributing medications to turning on machines and opening doors. They have to be programmed by humans. But what if AIs can think for themselves? That’s another story.

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