Face recognition accuracy of forensic examiners, superrecognizers, and face recognition algorithms

P. Jonathon Phillips, Amy N. Yates, Ying Hu, Carina A. Hahn, Eilidh Noyes, Kelsey Jackson, Jacqueline G. Cavazos, Géraldine Jeckeln, Rajeev Ranjan, Swami Sankaranarayanan, Jun-Cheng Chen, Carlos D. Castillo, Rama Chellappa, David White, Alice J. O’Toole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Citations (Scopus)


This study measures face identification accuracy for an international group of professional forensic facial examiners working under circumstances that apply in real world casework. Examiners and other human face “specialists,” including forensically trained facial reviewers and untrained superrecognizers, were more accurate than the control groups on a challenging test of face identification. Therefore, specialists are the best available human solution to the problem of face identification. We present data comparing state-of-the-art face recognition technology with the best human face identifiers. The best machine performed in the range of the best humans: professional facial examiners. However, optimal face identification was achieved only when humans and machines worked in collaboration. Achieving the upper limits of face identification accuracy in forensic applications can minimize errors that have profound social and personal consequences. Although forensic examiners identify faces in these applications, systematic tests of their accuracy are rare. How can we achieve the most accurate face identification: using people and/or machines working alone or in collaboration? In a comprehensive comparison of face identification by humans and computers, we found that forensic facial examiners, facial reviewers, and superrecognizers were more accurate than fingerprint examiners and students on a challenging face identification test. Individual performance on the test varied widely. On the same test, four deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs), developed between 2015 and 2017, identified faces within the range of human accuracy. Accuracy of the algorithms increased steadily over time, with the most recent DCNN scoring above the median of the forensic facial examiners. Using crowd-sourcing methods, we fused the judgments of multiple forensic facial examiners by averaging their rating-based identity judgments. Accuracy was substantially better for fused judgments than for individuals working alone. Fusion also served to stabilize performance, boosting the scores of lower-performing individuals and decreasing variability. Single forensic facial examiners fused with the best algorithm were more accurate than the combination of two examiners. Therefore, collaboration among humans and between humans and machines offers tangible benefits to face identification accuracy in important applications. These results offer an evidence-based roadmap for achieving the most accurate face identification possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6171-6176
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


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