Will Facial-Recognition Software Finally Reveal Mona Lisa's True Identity?

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Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, received an initial grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which they will use to explore the effectiveness of cutting-edge facial-recognition technology in centuries-old portraits and other fine art.

The project, known as FACES (Faces, Art, and Computerized Evaluation Systems), will make use of the same state-of-the-art facial recognition software used to combat terrorism, "to solve old and vexing art historical problems," said Conrad Rudolph, a professor of art history and the director of this project.

Variations in facial expression, age, facial hair and angle of pose are common problems for current uses of the technology; refining the software to contend with 2D and 3D forms, as well as portraiture rather than photographic likenesses, will only make it that much of a challenge.


Initial tests subjects will be chosen with as much control over problem variables as possible. Comparing the death or life mask of an known individual with a sculpture or bust of the same person, for instance, Lorenzo de' Medici, will be the first step. If this 3D-to-3D test proves successful, eventually they will move on to test 2D-to-3D, and if they find continued success with this as well, they hope ultimately to test portraits of known subjects against unidentified portraits.

It's still very early in the game, but if the project proves a success, we might finally learn the true identity of da Vinci's mysterious Mona Lisa. [DailyMail, UCR, Image via Public Domain]