Google Develops Celebrity Face Recognition For YouTube

Researchers have developed an automated technique to associate faces detected in an image with people's names found in Web pages text or tags.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

May 22, 2009

2 Min Read

YouTube rose to fame by democratizing stardom. "Broadcast Yourself," the site exhorts. But celebrity isn't democratic. It's a matter of have and have not, and most people fall into the latter category.

Being able to separate the famous from the hoi polloi has certain financial implications for YouTube. Stars attract viewers, so being able to identify videos with A-List talent might suggest where to direct marketing and promotional resources. And because stars tend to feature prominently in videos uploaded to YouTube without authorization, being able to identify popular icons could help spot copyright violations.

Such speculation may offer some hint as to why Google's researchers have been working on celebrity facial-recognition technology.

In a paper titled "Audiovisual Celebrity Recognition In Unconstrained Web Videos," presented at a conference in Taiwan last month, Google researchers Mehmet Sargin, Hrishikesh Aradhye, Pedro Moreno, and Ming Zhao describe work they've been doing to recognize the faces of celebrities in videos.

The problem is that facial recognition on video doesn't work very well in many circumstances. The researchers note that successful examples of facial recognition on video tend to involve constraints, such as a TV anchor appearing as a talking head, without much movement, under controlled illumination.

Thus, the researchers have developed an automated technique to associate faces detected in an image with people's names found in Web pages text or tags. The system doesn't need to be taught and can accommodate the scale at which YouTube operates.

"The Internet is in a constant state of flux, and new 'celebrities' are constantly added to the popular culture even as the celebrities of the past fade," the paper states. "This ability to learn autonomously to constantly add to the existing gallery of celebrities is therefore a major design principle of our work."

The system can recognize "hundreds of thousands of celebrity faces by exploiting the tremendous depth of the Internet," according to the paper.

How Google and YouTube will use this knowledge isn't clear. A YouTube spokesperson said the research is not related to YouTube's Content ID System, which allows content owners to identify and manage their content on the video-sharing site.

At the very least, facial-recognition technology could enhance the user experience on YouTube by ensuring that uploaded videos featuring celebrities include annotations that identify the stars.

The Internet has made video accessible to everyone, including your competition. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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