Robinson Meyer isn’t a terrorist; he’s an associate editor at the Atlantic. But earlier this year, he slathered camouflage paint on his face and hung out in Adams Morgan and other D.C. neighborhoods to see if he could do something a terrorist might want to do: pass as a harmless albeit quirky local while hiding his identity from facial-recognition computers.
“The patterns in which I applied the paint were important,” he writes in the magazine’s online edition. “To the pixel-calculating machinations of facial recognition algorithms, they transformed my face into a mess of unremarkable pixels.”
The patterns, called CV (for computer vision) dazzle, have been around for a while; Meyer’s innovation was to wear them without calling too much attention to himself while walking around the security cams of our nation’s capital.
“I commuted in the dazzle; I went to work in the dazzle,” he writes. “I smuggled myself from place to place under the watchful eyes of computer algorithms. And I did it by making myself ridiculous.”
Well, he did look ridiculous, as the photos accompanying his article show. But no amount of trying to look like somebody’s offbeat buddy was very successful. If someone had snapped his camouflaged face and posted it on Facebook, he says, any facial-recognition devices that might be scanning social media would have seen nothing but “a set of pixels, undistinguishable from the morass” around it.
But to humans, he said, “CV dazzle made my face highly visible. Perhaps even unforgettable.” In other words, a terrorist could use the paint to confuse security cameras, but he would be so obvious to human eyes around him that it would make stealthy evildoing pretty tough. Whew.