That Knowing Glance

Be seeing you!  In today’s no-longer-futuristic surveillance society, something or somebody may always be watching. Or maybe not. This implicit uncertainty adds an extra layer of ambiguity to the Lacanian proposition that much of human behavior (including our own) is a performance enacted for an audience of ‘others’  –even when that ‘other’ is no one but ourselves.  Is it then that we’re always on stage, playing the role of ourselves or the self we wish to be, no matter whether anyone is there to see it?  I can hear a tree falling, in a forest I imagine, before it even hits the ground.

WTF is Lunghu talking about?!?  Not much, just a philosophical digression inspired by a media report that London (UK) police are making a systematic attempt to deploy the unique talents of officers with unusually well-developed facial recognition skills.

Since 2011, about 200 London police officers have been recruited to an elite squad of super recognizers. Paul Hyland almost never forgets a face. “If I’ve met someone before and see them again, I’ll usually know where I know them from, even if I can’t remember their name,” Hyland said. Several years ago, for example, London police were on the lookout for a burglar wanted for nine break-ins.  Some time later, Hyland and two colleagues were stuck in traffic. “I looked up and noticed this guy coming out of a university and knew it was him,” Hyland recalled, adding that neither of his colleagues recognized the burglar. Hyland arrested the suspect, who confessed after questioning.


Remember this face. He’ll remember yours.

After London’s 2011 riots … arrests of 4,000 suspects were based on police identifications from video images. The super recognizers were responsible for nearly 30 percent of the identifications, including one officer who identified almost 300 people. A facial recognition software program made only one successful identification.  At Scotland Yard’s request, psychologist Josh Davis of the University of Greenwich ran several tests on 18 of the best- performing super recognizer cops and found many scored off the charts when compared to average people. He’s now planning to examine all 200 super recognizers on the London police and to develop a test for new recruits to see who might have special facial recognition abilities.

Brad Duchaine of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH has published research on super recognizers. “People are much better at facial recognition than software (is), so using people is a very reasonable thing to do,” Duchaine said.

Facial recognition is not a prominent part of Lunghu’s own intell skillset –he’s too easily distracted by something as simple as a hat or a different hairstyle, and he’s always sure that he’s met that beautiful woman somewhere before, when happiness shines in her eyes.  However, as compensation, Lunghu has a rare talent that few in the police business possess: on the street, he instantly recognizes fugitive murderers for what they are, even though he has never met them or even seen their mugshots.  The desperate fear of capture is hidden in their eyes.  Rather than introduce himself, Lunghu knows enough to walk away.  As Great-Grandma Lunghu used to say, “No matter the crime, he’ll be kotched in the end.” And they have been.  Be seeing you!



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