By Robinson Meyer, about whom the NSA gives not one fuck.
More: Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face - the Atlantic
The NSA made me slather my face in make-up.
Or, it didn’t make me, exactly. But last spring, I found myself wandering around D.C., wearing dazzle camouflage for the first time. It was a sunny Saturday, the capital swamp neither frigid nor muggy-oppressive—perfect for walking. It took me 45 minutes to get all the makeup on, to get the pencil right and the hair dangled just so.
I spent the day hanging out with some friends around Adams Morgan, a neighborhood seemingly developed by former hippies who had gone into non-profit C-suites or opened boutique restaurant-bars. I told my friends why my face had splotches of dark makeup on it but didn’t say much to anyone else, and that’s when the looks began.
I should step back. I had slathered the paint on my face in order to hide from computers. The patterns in which I applied the paint were important: To the pixel-calculating machinations of facial recognition algorithms, they transformed my face into a mess of unremarkable pixels. In the computer’s vision, my face caused a momentary burst of confusion.
That’s why the patterns are called computer vision dazzle (or CV dazzle). When it works, CV dazzle keeps facial-recognition algorithms from seeing a face. The technique takes its name from the dazzle camouflage of the two World Wars: The Great Power navies sought to protect their ships not by hiding them among the waves but by obscuring their size and movement. CV dazzle was developed by the artist, designer, and entrepreneur, Adam Harvey, who created the patterns as a student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.
The idea behind CV dazzle is simple. Facial recognition algorithms look for certain patterns when they analyze images: patterns of light and dark in the cheekbones, or the way color is distributed on the nose bridge—a baseline amount of symmetry. These hallmarks all betray the uniqueness of a human visage. If you obstruct them, the algorithm can’t separate a face from any other swath of pixels.
CV dazzle is ostentatious and kind of rad-looking, in a joyful, dystopic way. The first time I saw it, three years ago, I found it charismatic and captivating. Here was a technology that confounded computers with light and color. Since then, more and more people have learned about the technology. Harvey has contributed op-art about dazzle to The New York Times and enthusiasts have held facial dazzle parties. After documents from the Snowden tranche revealed the NSA had harvested an enormous database of faces from images on the web, CV dazzle seemed all the more urgent.
This reminds me of that movie (which title I can’t remember) with Robin Williams, of a dystopian future where everybody gets little cameras implanted in their eyeballs, and some dudebros get these facial tattoos to foil the cameras.
I guess these guys all want to be Robin Williams.
Also: I put this in the “Moonbats” category, which I think should be renamed to “Dudebros” since we don’t post many articles about Code Pink & PETA.