Averaging inanimate objects can produce human faces (Synopsis)

"Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and that is its whole secret." -Albert Camus

It's well known that by aligning and averaging a wide variety of human faces together, an eerie "average" human face can be arrived at. But we see faces in things all the time, from natural scenes like terrain to artificial ones like cars, coffeemakers and combination locks.

Images credit: Instagram, via the hashtag #FacesInThings, retrieved from Robby Kraft at http://robbykraft.com/sfpc/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_post=10. Images credit: Instagram, via the hashtag #FacesInThings, retrieved from Robby Kraft at http://robbykraft.com/sfpc/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_pos….

For the first time, someone averaged together a large number of images of objects appearing to have faces, and the result, strikingly, was an eerily human face. You'd think this might say more about the algorithm than the images themselves, but when noise was used, no human face emerged at all.

Image credit: Robby Kraft, via http://robbykraft.com/sfpc/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_post=10, of a single generated noise image (L) and of the 47 averaged images (R) where faces were successfully detected. Image credit: Robby Kraft, via http://robbykraft.com/sfpc/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_pos…, of a single generated noise image (L) and of the 47 averaged images (R) where faces were successfully detected.

Go view Robby Kraft's incredible project this weekend over at Forbes!

More like this

“Science is the one human activity that is truly progressive. The body of positive knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.” -Edwin Hubble We really got into some wondrous stuff here at Starts With A Bang this past week, including: Can we see our galaxy's supermassive black hole? (…
"Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time." -Albert Camus After a week at Starts With A Bang filled with a huge variety of topics, from Ninja Warrior to the Moon to the far future of our…
"Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people who take pictures, you know, carry a camera. Because if I did I'd have stacks and stacks and stacks of different acts." -Edwin Starr You've been outside enough to know that the deepest photos of the Universe -- of the night sky -- aren't quite the same…
We know that "average" faces are judged to be more attractive than the faces of the individuals making up the average. But this doesn't tell us what the mechanism for judging attractiveness is. Do we judge faces to be attractive because they are potential mates, or is there some other reason for…


Do you believe Mt. Rushmore could happen by chance, if given enough time?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 15 Nov 2015 #permalink


Do you believe utter ignorance could happen by chance from generations of intelligent humans, if given enough time?

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 15 Nov 2015 #permalink

@See Noevo #1

I'm not Ethan, but I'll answer your question:

Do I think it is possible a star could collapse out of a cloud of matter and by chance end up with a magnetically shielded planet in the habitatal zone where life could evolve to the point where a sentient being with artistic ability could carve the likenesses of four historical figures into a tectonically created land feature? Sure! In fact I think I've even seen a photo of something like that.

@Michael Kelsey #2

Are you kidding? Who doesn't want a Porn Star and Five Time Ultimate Smackdown Champion for President?!?

"Do you believe utter ignorance could happen by chance from generations of intelligent humans, if given enough time?"

No, you'd have to indoctrinate the child from an early age into ignorance and scare then from even trying to find things out.

Otherwise the natural outcome of a self-constructed neural network as complex and large as that in the human central nervous system would attempt to see patterns, work out the reasons so that planning could be made to deal with or take advantage of the knowledge, and ignorance would become knowledge naturally.

Further to #3, what sort of "grand plan" would plan to have Mt Rushmore built? What purpose does it have for some omniscient, omnipresent being to have some hairless apes who owned slaves and had wooden teeth because their teeth were poorly designed, and fled a country because they didn't worship the god that apparently planned all this out have their likenesses carved out of a cliff face?

Surely it could have done the carving itself.

And before those particular hairless apes were even created!

The human pattern-recognition sense is very effective for certain categories of things, faces being one of those categories.

Our ancestors, looking down a trail, scanned the scene for the faces of predators such as lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), and hostile humans waiting in ambush. As well, recognition of familiar faces was a matter of safety and of family & tribal solidarity.

Two circles, with something between them, and a line below that, produce a minimal pattern that can suggest a face. The designers of automobiles deliberately take advantage of this in designing the frontal appearances of cars. If you think of the fronts of cars as similar to emoticons, you can even spot the emotions and social attitudes the designers seek to convey. Some of them are "friendly" or otherwise benign, some of them are nasty and aggressive.

Given the minimal geometry necessary to suggest a face, it's not surprising that large numbers of inanimate objects have a similar enough appearance that when enough of them are averaged together, something resembling a face emerges from the process.

I just thought I'd look at Ethan's other blogs and saw this, and what a surprise "wow" is here, my ex bought me copies of paintings I had to get rid of, he was always asking me to look for the faces, he was a drug user, weed, speed and vallies, yes if u look close in any photo or painting u can see any different faces and figurines, or he would buy me flowers and light candles and pick out faces on the shadows on the walls, I do have photos of faces, even though the photos before and after have nothing in them there is smoke faces but the next is clear, which I found strange, but I just put this down to him being high

By Carrie smedley (not verified) on 16 Nov 2015 #permalink