On January 6, America watched protesters storm the gates in Washington, D.C. and invade the Capitol buildings. For hours, the rioters looted and occupied America’s halls of power and though some were apprehended, many found a way to get out and get back home avoiding arrest.

However, media coverage was substantial and some of the protesters were even bold enough to be caught posing for social media. Slowly, authorities are tracking them down, and Dr. Derek Riley, an expert at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in the areas of computer science and deep learning, has been explaining how artificial intelligence (AI) technology that’s taught at MSOE is capable of enabling law enforcement's efforts to identify individuals from pictures.

"With these AI systems, we’ll show it example photos and we’ll say, 'OK, this is a nose, this is an ear, this is Billy, this is Susie,'" Riley said. "And over lots and lots of examples and a kind of understanding if they guess right or wrong, the algorithm actually tunes itself to get better and better at recognizing certain things."

Dr. Riley says this takes huge amounts of data and often needs a supercomputer—like MSOE's "Rosie"— to process it.

To get a computer or software to recognize a specific person takes more fine-tuning, Riley says. He says your smartphone may already do this.

"If you have a fingerprint scan or facial recognition to open up your phone, that’s exactly what’s happening," Riley said. "So, they’ve already trained a really large model to do all the basic recognition, and then you provide a device with a fingerprint scanning or pictures of your face at the end to be able to fine-tune that model to recognize exactly who you are."

Riley says this technology isn't foolproof—he says human intelligence is needed at every step.

He added we might be contributing to the data sources some of the technology needs by posting our pictures to social media.

"Folks are uploading their own images constantly and that often is the source of the data that is used to train these really, really large systems," Riley said. January 14 – WTMJ, Ch. 4, NBC News

The concept of facial recognition and the use of this technology in law enforcement (and several other applications) is an emerging topic – and if you are a reporter looking to cover this topic or speak with an expert, then let us help.

Dr. Derek Riley is an expert in big data, artificial intelligence, computer modeling and simulation, and mobile computing/programming. He’s available to speak with media about facial recognition technology and its many uses. 

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Associate Professor/Program Director

Dr. Derek Riley

Department: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science