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Wearing a mask won’t stop facial recognition anymore

If you’ve been walking around your city recently believing that the face mask you wear to protect you from the coronavirus is also fooling facial recognition cameras, then we have bad news for you: Facial recognition is evolving.

New forms of facial recognition can now recognize not just people wearing masks over their mouths, but also people in scarves and even with fake beards. And the technology is already rolling out in China because of one unexpected event: The coronavirus outbreak.

Over the last several weeks, the deadly Covid-19 disease has forced millions of people across China to don surgical masks and N95 respirators. This has led China’s AI champion SenseTime to adapt its facial recognition product to identify people wearing these masks, according to an announcement from the company last week.

But this technology isn’t exactly new. Stanford University postdoctoral fellow Amarjot Singh and his team published research on disguised face identification (DFI) in 2017. Their algorithm made a breakthrough in recognizing people wearing eyeglasses, fake beards, scarves and hard hats.

“Face recognition identifies a person by locating several key points on the face and connecting them together to form a unique person-specific signature,” Singh explained.

These key points are usually around the eyes, nose and lips. But facial recognition systems developed by Singh and others are able to recognize masked people by getting enough key points from just the eyes and nose.