Genii Weblog

Fixing software by not challenging it

Mon 8 Dec 2008, 01:47 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
It has long been irritating to me to see people treat weak software as if it needs to be coddled rather than strengthened.  It might be one thing when the software is relatively non-essential, such as Symphony's presentation software, but quite another when it is software used for matters of life and death, security or vast sums of money.  A classic example is the repeated failures of the Star Wars defense systems.  After a few failures, the testers simply started making the tests easier and easier to pass until they could declare success at something, even if it was nothing like a real world threat.  Sure makes me safe!

Today I read about a less important case, but one that equally seems to miss the point.  In Indiana, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has decreed that people getting their photographs taken may not wear scarves or hats or glasses or even smile, as such obstructions may confuse the facial recognition software they use.  It does not seem to occur to them that a) their facial recognition software is too weak to be relied on, and b) advertising the weakness this way simply ensures that people who don't want to be recognized will actually wear their glasses and smile.  Gee, that sounds like a plan.  It seems like it would be even easier to simply demand that lawbreakers and terrorists wear a special hat that could be easily recognized by the software, as that would eliminate all confusion and not strain the software too much.

Copyright 2008 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

734.1. John Coolidge
(12/08/2008 11:11 AM)

Ben Massachusetts is the same way. I can't see a foot in front of me without them but same deal in the license pic. Silly if you ask me

734.2. Nathan T. Freeman
(12/08/2008 12:51 PM)

Ummmmm.... why is the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles using facial recognition software? Under what conditions is a computer supposed to compare a realtime image against the license database?

734.3. Ben Langhinrichs
(12/08/2008 12:55 PM)

Nathan - Actually, that is my favorite part of the story. They use the software to compare with older photographs they have on file where... wait for it... people might be wwearing scarves or glasses or even smiling. You can tell they have thought this one through.

Of course, part of the unspoken reason is that the Department of Homeland Security is exerting pressure on the BMVs to get the photographic evidence they can use for their searches, which is why I mentioned life and death matters above.

734.4. Doug Finner
(12/08/2008 04:23 PM)

Please, if the FSM is in her heaven, let one of Obama's cost saving measures be the dismantling of DHS (and NCLB while we're at it). We've done the Commie 2.0 scare thing to sufficiency and I'm ready for it to go away now.

734.5. Rodney Scott
(12/08/2008 08:06 PM)

Ben, the obvious problem with the "terrorists wear special hats so they can be recognized" idea is that it is singling out a specific group for such requirements, and they may sue.