Facial recognition software, in both its real-world and movie-fantasy applications, is really amazing technology. But with the constant barrage of fear mongering associated with its applications, it’s nice to see some good news come out about it.


Microsoft has partnered with ING, Delft University of Technology, The Mauritshuis and Museum Het Rembrandthu on a project called Next Rembrandt to apply the methods of facial recognition software to create a whole new face. How? (And slightly less important…why?) By having the software study up on its art history.

Next Rembrandt fed digitized images of 346 paintings by Rembrandt into the software’s database and then applied the same layer-by-layer facial characteristic breakdown used in recognition technology to have the computer analyze the portraits. But instead of picking out a specific face for identification, the computer was tasked with creating a whole new face using the styles and conventions of the Dutch master.

The end result was a painting that is so eerily similar to something Rembrandt himself would have created that it’s nearly a flawless representation of his style. The painstaking process took more than 500 hours and involved multiple layers of image rendering and inking. One project leader has stated that if he didn’t know better–and saw it hanging in a museum with the artist’s name–he would believe the computer’s finished product to be a genuine Rembrandt.

According to Next Rembrandt’s website, “To master his style, we designed a software system that could understand Rembrandt based on his use of geometry, composition, and painting materials. A facial recognition algorithm identified and classified the most typical geometric patterns used by Rembrandt to paint human features. It then used the learned principles to replicate the style and generate new facial features for our painting.”

But this still hasn’t explained the why, other than to demonstrate the growing capabilities of facial recognition software. Creating forgeries for fun is one thing, but this only highlights how advanced the capabilities have become; that’s a far less enjoyable prospect for many people, especially those who are designing counter-products to thwart the technology and protect our privacy.