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  • Toby Sinclair

Are you a Super Recogniser?

In 2015 I made a discovery; I have a super power. Unfortunately it’s not the power of invisibility, the power of ultimate strength or the power to fly. Actually, it’s not really a Super Power but if you’ll let me indulge, it does have Super in the name. My power is “Super Recognition”

Super Recognisers are the people who quite literally never forget a face, in possession of an extraordinary ability to recognise men, women and children they barely know. Dr Josh Davis, a forensic facial identification expert from the University of Greenwich, is conducting a study into super-recognisers and their abilities. “We have tested them on passport images taken 10 years [ago] and they are still able to recognise where they’ve seen faces before,” he said. “We think super-recognition is nature, rather than nurture, but I can’t say 100%. People tend to emerge in their 20s and 30s, we’re not really finding any super-recognisers in their teens so far.” [1]

My “Super Power” was confirmed after taking a test by Greenwich University. The test presents you with an array of faces and you need to match them in a subsequent sequence of photos. Incredibly, I only got 1 answer wrong which suggested I may be a “Super Recogniser”

The results of the test were not really a  suprise. Since my early 20’s I’d always had a strange ability to recognise faces with incredible accuracy. For me, it doesn’t stop at faces actually, most objects and places I can quickly match to a visual memory.

A perfect example is travelling on holiday. We’ve all been in that situation, waiting with a few hundred other people in the departure lounge to board a flight. To the frustration of my partner, every time i travel with my partner I recognise faces of people I’d seen for only a few seconds in the departure lounge. On the return flight I’d be able to identify people who’d been on the same flight and sometimes even people who had been on a previous flight maybe the year earlier.

The UK Metroploitan police have been using “Super Recognisers” to fight crime:

New Scotland Yard deploys an elite team of 140 officers across London to try to capture the most wanted criminals. PC Gary Collins is the Met’s top super-recogniser and has identified more than 800 suspects from photographs, CCTV and his time policing the streets. His beat is Hackney, one of the capital’s worst areas for crime. “Whenever an incident happens they’ll call me in and show me the footage straight away. “I’ll look [at it] and say, ‘Yeah I know that person, I know him from this area or I stopped him on this occasion,’ and it’s just putting a name to the face.” [1]

Using the Power

I started thinking;

“Have I been using my “Super Recognition” power in my day job within the IT Industry?”

Most of my experience has been involved with Software  Testing which encompasses exploring software to discover important information for my employers and stakeholders. Part of obtaining information is recognising when something isn’t right. I do believe my super recogniser power has given me a slight advantage. A quick recognition of unexpected changes means I can obtain useful information quicker and more frequently. It also means changes potentially undetected by others might be picked up when I get involved.

In many cases, automation can be applied to check differences introduced to software in the same way facial recognition software can be used to detect faces.

Super-recognisers are not the only tool open to the authorities when chasing a face. The ever-expanding field of facial recognition software offers the mechanical alternative to human talent, the science against the art. But which offers the best chance of catching the criminal, now and in the future? [1]

The Metropolitan Police have found human “Super Recognition” can be highly complementary to automatic approaches which matches my experience in Testing.

Thinking Differently

It’s quite common for people in the software industry to say Developers and Testers think completely differently. Whilst I agree and disagree with that statement I do believe that the power of “Super Recognition” does help in my day-to-day job as a tester.

With every super power, there are downsides of course. Now knowing my super power is likely to lead me more towards confirmation bias. In the same way superman doesn’t think “Can I still fly?” before he jumps off a building maybe I’ll forget to think “Have I recognised this correctly?”

Are you a Super Recogniser?

Take the test to find out here and compare your score to mine!

If you score highly you can take a longer test to really put your super power to the test!


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