During World War I, the British experimented with something called dazzle camouflage, a manner of painting ships so that they might be more difficult for German u-boats to torpedo or otherwise molest. The theory behind it was quite simple: when the image of a ship set against a featureless background like the open ocean is broken up by random, jagged lines, it becomes difficult or impossible for the human eye to determine the ship's size, direction of travel, and orientation. This example (HMS Argus, 1917) shows that the technique didn't exactly make a ship less visible, but imagine watching it through a periscope from a great distance and the effect becomes clear.

"Schiesse! Das crazyboot!"

While I've always found it interesting and with a strange kind of aesthetic appeal, dazzle paint disappeared with the development of things like radar and long range aircraft. But apparently there is a new application for this very old idea: dazzle makeup as a means of subverting that incredibly creepy facial recognition software that is quickly and quietly becoming omnipresent. Artist Adam Harvey's project, CV Dazzle, is more interested in making an artistic statement than a political one, but the practical application of this kind of personal fashion is obvious.

Do they look a tad silly? Of course. It is the concept that is compelling, though, not necessarily the fashion-forwardness of the results. Facial recognition relies on concepts like symmetry and ratios among features, and without these even sophisticated technology is of limited effectiveness at identifying faces.

So, if we all break up our faces with bizarre hair and makeup tricks, that should buy us a couple more years until SkyNet's capabilities are updated to defeat our attempts to deceive it.

24 thoughts on “NPF: DAZZLING”

  • Unfortunately not all of us have hair. When I was a kid I discovered a beehive outside of my bedroom window; not wanting to risk getting stung, and not wanting to attract bears, I decided to remedy the situation. I tied a stick to the barrel of a supersoaker that I "acquired" from me neighbor's garage, and filled it with gasoline that I "acquired" from a gas station. At the end of the stick I attached a match. I pumped my weapon, lit the match, and took aim. Upon pulling the trigger I realized that the window through which I was attempting to shoot was closed, but because of my impeccable cleanliness I couldn't even tell until the fiery explosion. Needless to say, fire was all over the place. My hair quickly went up in flames, in part due to the fact that I read in a magazine that letting my hair soak in acetone would give it increased volume. Why did I decide to soak it that day? Good question. I haven't been able to grow any hair since the blaze.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I'm pretty bald myself. So the hair tricks won't work for me.

    Next time I fly, to confuse them, I intend to go looking like a Picasso cubist painting.

    The problem is, I'm kind of round and curved, and his paintings had a lot of sharp angles.

    Maybe if I wore protractors as earrings, and had a bunch of them hanging from my clothes?
    Do you think that will work?

  • I'm reminded of animals that use a manner of dazzle camouflage, like zebras, or of the butterflies that have huge fake eyes on their wings to ward off predators. The thought of using that method to ward off Facebook is oddly comforting.

  • Since – it seems – that current video panopticon security systems rely on software parsing hours and hours of ftg after the fact, there are apparently actual techniques in the works to outwit said systems. To it: "the World's Ugliest T-shirt" featured in William Gibson's latest novel ZERO HISTORY. It's referred to so obliquely in the narrative that I never got a clear picture of what was on said item, but I assumed it was a pattern that would cause any software reviewing footage of anyone in the t-shirt to just 'blank out'.
    Being a novelist, Gibson could have been pulling this out of his ass or using a real world but blue-sky idea. But his recent work is pretty grounded in the real.

  • OK – thanks to teh Googles, it's a combo of ass-pulling and blue-skying. From an interview with Gibson in VICE magazine of all places:

    Q:…You call it the ugliest t-shirt in the world. It’s specially designed to scramble the wearer’s identity so that they can’t be picked up by CCTV cameras. You have the character of Garreth, who’s like the ultimate quasi-military badass, sort of being afraid of this t-shirt because it’s “bad to know” about and it’s “too deep.”

    A: If it were real, it would be just too bad to know about. It offers virtual invisibility—video invisibility. Your acts cannot be recorded. The idea works particularly well in the context of London, which is such a famously surveilled landscape.

    Q: Is there any basis in reality for that shirt?

    A: Only insofar as that the description of it emerged instantly and effortlessly from my colleague Bruce Sterling. [laughs] I forget exactly what my version of it was, but I asked him for some help. He said, “You just need a really ugly t-shirt.” He came out with this thing off the top of his head, his assumption being that the absolute holy grail of the video surveillance industry was facial recognition. He said, “They’ll tell you that they’re working on it, but they already have some—and they don’t tell you what they’re doing anyway.” He reeled off how the whole thing would work. And I said, “Thank you, I’ll take that.” My experience with Bruce has been that if he can imagine it that easily, it’s likely to be close to what somebody is doing. Have you seen, on the internet, this guy who can use his fists to make different shapes that video surveillance systems will recognize as faces?

    Q: No. That’s nuts.

    A: I think I tweeted it at some point. It’s really extraordinary. It looks like the kind of magic that people do to amuse children. But you can also just shove it up to one of these cameras and it will go, “You’re a person,” and then let you through, thinking it’s got your face. That’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the t-shirt in ZERO HISTORY.

  • "The theory behind it was quite simple: when the image of a ship set against a featureless background like the open ocean is broken up by random, jagged lines, it becomes difficult or impossible for the human eye to determine the ship's size, direction of travel, and orientation."

    This is a common but not quite correct explanation. The main purpose of dazzle camouflage was to confuse optical range-finders, which were in common use at the time. It finally died out in WW II as radar became more common.

  • In the Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel "A Scanner Darkly" there was a device called a "scramble suit" which would, I seem to recall, randomly change the wearer's appearance making them unidentifiable.

  • The Israelis are big developers of this type of software as well as being the brains behind the drones. If you were following the Dubai Hamas assassination closely, you would have noticed something unusual. About 80% of the suspects are wearing glasses or wigs in their passport shots. Reason? Because facial recognition software algorithms use the bridge above the nose and between the eyes relative to the outer ocular rims of the eye sockets as the base calculation for facial recognition. When you disrupt this calculation, as in wearing dark makeup that absorbs light, or have hair hanging closely over the face, or wear dark rimmed spectacles, it's effectively like using sandpaper on your fingers before getting fingerprinted. Anyways, who keeps their glasses on when sitting for a passport photo? Come on, Israel. You can do better than that!

  • On them psychedelic balaclavas, do you put the mushrooms in the dough before you bake them or sprinkle them on top?


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