What is Facial Recognition Technology and How Does it Work?

Original article was published by Great Learning on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

What is Facial Recognition Technology and How Does it Work?

Facial Recognition Technology

According to Wikipedia — ‘A facial recognition system is a technology capable of identifying or verifying a person from a digital image or a video frame from a video source.’

But what does it actually mean in the real world?

What is the simple explanation behind this? How does this technology work? Which are the areas that make use of it?

This article will answer all these questions and more.

Put your reading glasses on to demystify the world of FRT (Facial Recognition Technology).

What is Facial Recognition Technology?

Facial recognition is a biometric software application that is capable of uniquely identifying or verifying a person’s identity by contrasting and analyzing patterns based on the person’s facial outline. Generally, Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) creates multiple templates of the target individual’s face and compares it with the pre-existing images of a known face in the existing database. This technology uses a software application to create a template by analyzing properly the images of human faces to verify a person’s identity.

It is also known as a Biometric Artificial Intelligence-based application that can identify a person by analyzing patterns based on his/her features. The facial recognition market was evaluated at 3.97 billion USD in the year 2018 and is estimated to reach 10.15 billion USD by 2025.

Even though face recognition has been in development since the 1960s, because of the digital technology developments of methods like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, AI facial recognition technology has become popular amongst the masses.

Pattern recognition, face analysis, deep learning, and machine learning form the major contributors to the development of facial recognition systems. Deep learning refers to the subset of Machine Learning that enables machines to learn and solve complex problems using algorithms inspired by the human brain, sans any human intervention. It is inspired by the structure and function of the brain called artificial neural networks.

These artificial neural networks simulate the network of neurons that make up the human brain so that the machine is able to learn things and take decisions in a human-like manner. Facial recognition technology makes use of the same by recognizing the face of an individual from its database, just like humans recall different people from our memory.

How does Facial Recognition Technology Work?

There must be people in your friend circle who are very good at recognizing facial similarities. When this attribute is given the shape of technology, a facial recognition system comes into existence which works in a more systematic and mathematical process that is broken down on the basis of an algorithm.

Even though technology can vary when it comes to facial recognition, but the general functions are as follows:


Firstly, as the person looks directly into the camera, it detects and recognizes a face. The camera can also detect faces from a crowd of people.


Facial recognition software reads the geometry of the person’s face. Here, the key factors include the distance between the person’s eyes and the distance from forehead to chin. Each face is made up of distinguishable landmarks or nodal points. On the human face, there are 80 nodal points. Once identified, these facial landmarks are then used to create a facial signature.


Once the analysis of the face is done, it is turned into a facial signature, i.e. a mathematical formula. This signature comprises of code and is addressed as a faceprint. Just like each one of us has a unique thumbprint, we have our unique faceprint too.


Now, the numerical code is compared against a database of other faceprints. This database has a collection of photos with identification that can be compared. One of the examples of such a database is Facebook.

If you have a Facebook account, you must have uploaded some pictures of yours in it. The facial recognition technology is put into the application here as it stores a person’s photo tagged with his/her name as part of its database. It then identifies a match for the person’s exact features in its pre-existing database by comparing the faceprint against the database until a match is found. The match is returned with the attached information in the form of a name and address.

Where is Facial Recognition Technology Used?

A lot of people and organizations make use of facial recognition technology currently.

Here are some of the areas where it is used –

  • Social Media Companies — As mentioned before, Facebook makes use of an algorithm to spot faces when you upload a picture to its platform. The social media company further asks you if you want to tag people in your photos. If you respond in the affirmative, a link is then created to those individual’s profiles.
  • Businesses at the Entrance or Restricted Areas — Many companies use facial recognition in lieu of security badges to ensure that safety regulations in the organizations’ various departments are maintained properly.
  • Airlines at Departure Gates — Airlines like JetBlue and Delta use facial recognition technology to identify passengers. Even though the biometric facial scanning is optional, it saves a lot of time and prevents the hassle of always keeping a track of the passenger’s ticket.
  • Colleges — Remember the days when you could send your brainy roommate to take up that difficult test for you? Well, thanks to artificial intelligence, this is now a far-fetched idea as facial recognition software is able to take roll calls based on face scanning.
  • Retailers in Stores — We all have seen retailers combining surveillance cameras and facial recognition to scan the faces of the shoppers who enter the store. The main goal here is to identify suspicious characters who could be potential shoplifters.
  • Healthcare Apps — Have you heard of the app Face2Gene? If not, let us tell you what this app does. It is one of a kind that identifies rare genetic disorders in patients by using facial recognition technology. It analyzes the faces of patients and compares them to its database of patients already suffering from various disorders.
  • Mobile Phone Makers — Apple, the tech giant, announced that it will use facial recognition technology to unlock its iPhone X and took the entire world by storm! It continues to use the same technology with the iPhone XS.

What are the Concerns Regarding Facial Recognition Technology?

While many industries have integrated facial recognition technology in their day-to-day tasks, many are still hesitant to accept this change.

Let us talk about their concerns now:

  • Privacy: Your facial data can be collected and stored in a database which makes it a soft target for hackers to invade your privacy. Large data breaches have become common these days and unfortunately, facial recognition technology is not immune to it as well.
  • Errors in identification — Facial recognition software matches faceprints with the data it has in its database. However, it is not always that simple and linear as a process. Errors occur due to low image quality which can make it difficult for the software to analyze a person’s nodal points. This creates a direct impact on the data and the faceprint gets compromised, making it impossible to find the right match from the database. In many cases, it can also lead to a case of mistaken identity.
  • Data misuse — Many people have a difficult time placing their trust in facial recognition technology because of the possible chances of misuse of data. Considering that many facial recognition databases are public, any person with malicious intent can track you down using the software. This can hamper your safety and make you prone to stalking too.
  • Prevalence — Fortunately, or unfortunately, facial recognition technology has become quite widespread. This means that your facial signature could end up in a lot of places, with you being in little know-how of who all have the access to it.

What is the Future of Facial Recognition Technology?

The future of facial recognition technology is bright. Thanks to the rapidly growing field of Artificial Intelligence, this technology is expected to grow at a fast rate, generating huge revenues in the coming years.

Even though it’s not perfect yet, it has already changed the world and forecasters opine that there will be no turning back on facial recognition technology. Like every new piece of technology that enters the market, this too will grow with time.

To make sure that you are in sync with the latest technology in the field of AI, join the leading online program in AI and Machine Learning by McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. The 6-months program skill you acquire the ability to independently solve business problems using AI & ML and master the skills needed to build machine learning and deep learning models.

Professionals who want to leverage the power of AI to become a qualified business leader and improve business outcomes join the 4-months PG Program in Artificial Intelligence for Leaders by McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.