If you have an evil twin, fear not: Microsoft’s facial recognition can tell identical twins apart

The Brothers Winklevi should try it out.
The Brothers Winklevi should try it out.
Image: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
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In April, Microsoft rolled out face detection software that could purportedly guess a person’s age with just one photo. It didn’t work so well. While the tech was occasionally spot-on, it was often dead wrong in hilarious ways: It thought Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was 10 years older than he really is and guessed that the Winklevoss twins were different ages.

But now, the company appears to be redeeming itself. Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system uses a program called Windows Hello to allow users to sign into their devices with biometric authentication. Instead of a password, users sign in using a fingerprint, iris, or, yes, your big beautiful face. Unlike the machine learning API that the earlier face detection software ran on, Windows Hello uses a RealSense 3D camera made by Intel.

The difference is profound.

The Australian conducted a test with six pairs of identical twins and found that Windows Hello could accurately tell them all apart. “It could distinguish between us two quite easily,” Miriam Jeffrey, one of the twins, told The Australian. “It’s a little surprising, I thought it would have failed, but no, it was really good, it was really quick.”

For a few of the other pairs, the technology took a bit longer to process, but still never granted login access to the wrong twin. To be sure, it wasn’t exactly a far-reaching scientific study, but it bodes well for the system’s ability to prevent malevolent people from entering your device.

But could being too accurate actually become a problem? What if a user dramatically loses or gains weight, adds or detracts facial hair, has surgery, or changes appearance in other ways? Microsoft says that’s not a problem: “If your appearance changes dramatically, you can re-enroll. The system will recognize past and current enrollments, for example you with or without a beard, glasses, or heavy makeup.” You can also elect to disable Windows Hello and sign in with a password or PIN as you normally would. (Then again, doing so would leave one vulnerable to hackers, which is one of the reasons the facial recognition technology exists in the first place.)

Twins or no twins, facial recognition is here to stay. Other than Microsoft, Facebook and Google also regularly employ similar technology. Research firm Gartner estimates that 30% of organizations will require biometric authentication of some kind by as early as next year. In the future, your face will be your ID, and that future is rapidly approaching.