CNET has a fluff piece about the fun of iPhoto’s new face recognition software. The author shares how the software identified a friend as a lemur and mistakenly identified friends as aged relatives. So here “the goofs are what make it fun.” One tags some photos and the software examines the entire library to find possible matches. As the report notes, “The science behind face recognition is complex and still evolving. In general, face recognition software looks for predictable patterns–characteristics and proportions that stay constant from one photograph to another, things like the distance between the eyes or from the eyes to the mouth.” (A friend of mine works on this area as part of his PhD program. The statistical models and math behind his work is quite sophisticated).
There is, however, a possible dark side to iPhoto. The more people tag help catalog photos, the more the general ability to track people will increase. Right now this information is on one’s computer. But I am guessing that online analogs exist or are about to (search facebook by face! and so on). I think it was Minority Report where the main character has to get new eyes to avoid surveillance recognition (yes that was retinal but you get the parallel). I am not saying this technology must stop (stopping technology is not a viable strategy). But as we move forward and play with new technology, the seemingly innocuous can have some rather potent impacts on how we live. Keeping an eye those potential changes may allow us to manage privacy and other interests before the problems occur rather than after.