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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ever try to figure out which celebrity you most resemble? Well, wonder no more. Now it can be scientifically proven -- sort of. The face recognition celebrity database on allows you to upload a photo of your face and discover your celebrity doppelganger. In just seconds, the site provides up to 10 matches from its library of multiple images of 2,400 famous people, ranging from well-known movie stars and athletes to politicians, scientists and long-forgotten historical figures. And the database is international, so it's as likely to include Mahatma Gandhi as Matthew McConaughey or Tony Blair as Tony Bennett.

Created as part of a site that is dedicated to genealogical research through photographs, the celebrity-match function has been a hit with time wasters in office cubes worldwide. In the two months that MyHeritage has been accessible to the public, more than two million visitors have tried out this addictive little feature, says Gilad Japhet, the site's 36-year-old founder.

The returns aren't always on target. Many, in fact, are spectacular misses. When we submitted a picture of Paris Hilton, none of the 10 matches included Hilton herself (though Shannen Doherty and Julianne Moore did pop up as look-alikes for the ubiquitous party girl). Results were particularly off the mark when we ran black subjects through the program. The top result for a photo of D.C. Councilmember Adrian Fenty? Beyonce Knowles. And the program also mysteriously concluded that Jackie Chan was, pardon the expression, the spitting image of the Redskins' Sean Taylor.

But there were also many instances in which the matches were dead-on. We ran political honchos George Bush, Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton through the process, and they all came back as themselves. Our favorite results, though, included ones for Jenna Bush, Samuel Alito and our colleague Suzanne D'Amato (see box).

Reached via e-mail at MyHeritage's headquarters outside of Tel Aviv, Japhet acknowledged that the recognition technology is still evolving and "the way the current system handles facial pose and expression, as well as skin color and glasses could use improvement." He hopes that refining the technology and adding more celebrities to the search will improve results.

Selecting which people to add to the database was an involved process that had Japhet and his team trying to decide which figures were important enough to include. The only groups of famous folks that Japhet ruled out were Nazis and porn stars -- apparently no one wants to look like either Joseph Goebbels or Ron Jeremy. Japhet also wanted to make the site informational so he included biographical links on all of the photos in the databases. If you don't recognize a result, you can simply click on the "i" below the photograph for more information. You can also click "more photos" to see a gallery of photographs of that individual.

For anyone with access to decent digital head shots of friends or relatives, hours of online amusement await. Be warned, though: Disappointment could be just a click away -- you may think you look like Beyonce, but you might be closer to Fenty. Joe Heim

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