Facial Recognition Technologies: A Primer

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Title: Facial Recognition Technologies: A Primer
Authors: Joy Buolamwini, Vicente Ordóñez, Jamie Morgenstern, and Erik Learned-Miller


This primer is meant to accompany our white paper, Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office, as a supporting document. It presents background on Facial Recognition Technologies (FRTs) and provides important context for material in the main document of the white paper. The primer is written for a non-technical audience to increase understanding of the terminology, applications, and difficulties of evaluating this complex set of technologies. In Section 1, we provide basic definitions of common terms like face detection and face verification. Such definitions are needed to clarify the precise meaning of subsequent discussions. In Section 2, we present some common and lesser known uses of FRTs. Section 3 introduces some of the fundamental technical concepts used in the process of recognizing a face, from the capture of the face by a camera, to the digital representation of faces in a computer, and finally to the evaluation of results and the categorization of errors. Section 4 highlights challenges with characterizing and measuring the accuracy of FRTs. This primer is a basic tutorial and does not provide guidance on if, how, or when specific FRTs should be used.


Buolamwini, J., Ordonez, V., Morgenstern, J., & Learned-Miller, E. (2020). Facial Recognition Technologies: A Primer. Retrieved from https://people.cs.umass.edu/~elm/papers/FRTprimer.pdf