17-year-olds’ facial recognition software signals death of passwords

13 Jan 2012

Two 17-year-olds from a Northside school in Dublin have created a new facial recognition system that website owners can deploy to allow their users to log in without having to remember passwords.

Such software, if deployed by web and social giants like Google, Twitter or Facebook, could sound the death knell of the tricky password system.

Viv.ie was created by students Niall Paterson and Sam Caulfield, who are studying for their Leaving Cert this year at Scoil Ris in Marino.

The technology works by taking a picture of your face and then analysing it against a database of registered users.

The software is being made available for free to website admins through a simple API. Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Niall said they were mindful that many APIs in the world are difficult and complex for web admins to implement, so as well as an API version, they created an iFrame version, too.

Niall said the system is designed in such a way that it is impossible to crack, adding he would be open to the idea of getting an IT security firm to test the strength of their facial recognition system by attempting to hack or bypass what they’ve created.

“The complexity of one’s face means it is difficult to take the perfect picture of a person and variants like background, shadow, hair don’t even come into consideration with this system. The software is designed to identify a person by the unique characteristics of their face.

“A Facebook password can be up to 22 characters long. We were frustrated with this and decided faces would work better.

The project began last year when Sam and Neil were in transition year. Niall worked on the PHP and Sam did the Java programming, while various friends chipped in with design.

“We tried launching this before with a different website but we weren’t ready. We got 100,000 hits and had to close it down because it cost too much.”

Niall said that while the front end of the system is complete there is a lot of work continuing on the back end and the pair plan to spend the next summer before heading off to college getting the system perfect. Niall intends to study maths and French in university while Sam aims to study computer science.

“The website has just gone live this week. The problem is we’re only 17 and we’re not really in touch with the business world yet. We do definitely think people will be interested in this,” Niall said.

The teen coding revolution in Ireland

The years 2011 and 2012 so far have seen an upsurge of interest by teenagers in computer programming via movements like Coder Dojo, and echoing what James Whelton, Harry Moran, Shane Curran and Tommy Collison have been saying; coding is more widespread among Irish school kids than parents or authorities would think.

“You might laugh when I say this, but the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has a hero who is a programmer and I got into it that way,” Niall said. “Most teens in Dublin who are coding all got into it in a similar way, one little thing triggers it and we get going.”

Niall said the lack of a computer science curriculum in Irish schools is a real shame. “The syllabus in schools is shocking, a big opportunity is being missed. Computer science and programming is something young people today appreciate and want to get into, they don’t think it’s about nerds or geeks.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years