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Can you tell between a real human face and a hyper-realistic mask? It is becoming more difficult

Posted November 24, 2019

You probably think that you are difficult to trick. You are smart and you pay attention to details, right? Cool, but can you tell if a person is wearing a high quality hyper-realistic mask? Many of them are used in movies and you usually cannot tell. In fact, people can barely differentiate between a mask and a real face in real life.

Is this a mask or just a normal human face? Image credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Scientists from the Universities of York and Kyoto gathered a bunch of people and made them look through a series of pictures. They had to tell whether the face they are seeing is covered by a high quality silicone mask or if it is just bare. Hyper-realistic masks are highly advances. The material itself (typically silicone or latex) can mimic human wrinkles and skin colour with incredible accuracy. Even the tiniest patterns show up in these meticulously molded masks. They cost thousands of dollars and the price can be unbelievably high, depending on the quality and the master who made it. Real human hair is sometimes used.

You were right, thinking it is a mask. Image credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

And while participants, who were from both the UK and Japan, were mostly correct, they made mistakes 20 % of the time. When the image depicted a person from a different race, accuracy fell by 5 %. And you think these results are not that bad?

Well, these people knew what they had to do – distinguish people wearing masks from those who are not wearing masks. They had a very clear task and failed one in five times. If there were 200 people in the room, 40 would keep their secret or would be called out even though they wouldn’t be wearing a mask. And in real life you pay less attention to certain details, because you are not expecting someone to be wearing a hyper-realistic mask.

Human face or a hyper-realistic mask?

Dr Jet Sanders, who worked on the study, said: “Failure to detect synthetic faces may have important implications for security and crime prevention as hyper-realistic masks may allow the key characteristics of a persons’ appearance to be incorrectly identified”.

There already have been many instances of crimes where the criminal pretended to be someone else, such as a police officer. Facial recognition software cannot do anything with these hyper-realistic masks. And worse still – they are getting cheaper.

One of the reasons, why hyper-realistic masks are so expensive, is that they have to be made by hand. It requires a lot of effort and time, which drives prices up. However, as manufacturing technologies are getting better, mass production of hyper-realistic masks is coming up and this is making them significantly cheaper. In other words, affordable for criminals. And this will be a problem if we cannot distinguish a real face from a fake one.


Source: University of York

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