The Questionable Authority

iPhoto Pareidolia

Pareidolia – the phenomenon where our brain is somehow tricked into recognizing vague shapes as significant features – gets mentioned now and then on ScienceBlogs. The usual trigger for this occurs when someone tries to sell the Wonderbread Virgin Mary on Ebay before the blue mold completely erases her from the slice, or when one of our more monomaniacal colleagues sees something that he can associate with the New Atheism.

Interestingly, it seems that human-programed face recognition software may be as subject to these issues as our own face recognition is. The latest version of Apple’s iPhoto comes with built-in face recognition. It provides a really cool way to sort pictures, and it seems to work pretty well. Except when it doesn’t:

i-cc3e4ca6729560c6167c6f87e9c1a8fa-noface.png

Like most of the false positive face identifications that people have pointed out to me, I don’t think I’d ever have made the connection on my own. But now that I’ve seen it, it does sort of look like there might be a face in there.

In fact it looks strangely familiar…

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    January 30, 2009

    We can systematically look for manifestations of Jesus and Mary now! Simply take all sorts of pictures in large public sets like those in Flicker and run them through face recognition software. If people have noted how many people are in their pictures then we can note any discrepancyes. Then we have people look at those pictures to see which are manifestations of Jesus and which are just pareidolia (if it looks like Vishnu its probably pareidolia).

    This is a great boon to applied theology.

  2. #2 Scotty B
    January 30, 2009

    I’ve run into the same thing with Picasa. Always kind of funny. Also funny when it finds pictures of people on the walls or pictures of kids on the boxes of children’s toys.

  3. #3 Onkel Bob
    January 30, 2009

    What does Jesus look like? Is this him Or this him? Or does he look like this? All images from Ravenna by the way, and all within about 50 or so years. Unfortunately they were done in 500 – 550 CE so…

  4. #4 Onkel Bob
    January 30, 2009

    What does Jesus look like? Is this him Or this him? Or does he look like this? All images from Ravenna by the way, and all within about 50 or so years. Unfortunately they were done in 500 – 550 CE so…
    (apologies if this is a double)

  5. #5 Luke
    January 31, 2009

    @Josh: Your post made me laugh.

    @Scotty: Using a shared RSS feed is a really good way to make a worth-the-effort home page. Thanks!

  6. #6 Onkel Bob
    January 31, 2009

    I always wonder one thing, how can they identify Jesus? True that’s there is a set image in the contemporary art vocabulary, but this program of mosaics show the portrayal of the Christ figure was anything but consistent.

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