Dazzle camouflage: sea-going Easter eggs and face recognition

Most warships these days are gray, and for good reasons. They are generally more difficult to make out with the naked eye. Of course, these days technology often makes visual camouflage redundant, but during World War I, a different tack was used: dazzle, or disruptive, camouflage. The idea was not camouflage as in “invisible”, but rather, to break up the outline of the ship. Torpedoes were launched with the gunners estimation of the ships direction, distance and speed. The dazzle paint made this difficult: crazy colours, strong black and white stripes. Some had painted-on bow-waves. In 1918, the New York Times wrote:

You should see our fleet, it’s camouflaged to look like a flock of Easter eggs going out to sea.

Olympic with Returned Soldiers
Olympic with Returned Soldiers, A. Lismer, Wikimedia Commons

The concept is easy enough, and some suggest that zebras is an example of dazzle camouflage. It is more difficult to pick out a single animal in a large, black-and-white herd. In nature, of course, there are many examples; the main point is to break up an expected outline. Birds eggs with spots, tigers, giraffes, fish, snakes, and indeed cats.

The ships look magnificent, if you ask me. Consider fairly modern camouflage, a lot of it is almost pixelated. The point is not to look like sand, leaves, or grass; the point is to break up the outline.

What does this have to do with face recognition? As of yet, face recognition software will have problems if expected outlines are disrupted. Adam Harvey, in his project CV Dazzle, tested various ways of hairstyles and makup on different face recognition software. You do not have to wear a burka to be unrecognisable. All you have to do is be a little avant garde. More of that, please.

CV Dazzle by Adam Harvey
CV Dazzle by Adam Harvey by permission


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Naval History and Heritage


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