One billion faces

facesHow it would be if we could sort all human faces according to their resemblance and play them in a movie? This is my fictional thought experiment on this question.

I won’t bother you on how I got the one billion faces. I will just invite you to come over to watch the first exhibition of my newest creation.

I will only explain that I collected one billion photos of one billion different human faces. One billion adult faces from all over the world, from every country, from every race, every skin color and hair type, every faith and profession.

One billion photos taken from a standard front position, neutral expression, on a plain white background.

I will tell that I created an algorithm to sort all my one billion faces according to their degree of similarity and that, then, I made a movie containing all of them in sequence. You will be shocked when you learn that at 48 frames per second, the film will continuously play for 241 days–eight months–and that, in fact, it has already been playing for weeks now.

You will come over to watch it. You will look at the screen and, for  a moment, you will think that it is just a single person staring at the camera. But then you will note that the face is slowly transforming into other faces, always surrounded by a diffuse cloud coming from the merging of different hair types and styles and holding a somewhat undefined color and texture.

Only at that point you will realize the implications of those one billion sorted faces playing continuously: human faces aren’t individual, they form a continuum spectrum with hundreds of people completely unknown to each other, without any family links, but sharing the same face.

I will explain that in the beginning of the movie, things weren’t so smooth. There lie the monsters: deformed faces that were on themselves unique. But flicking at 48 fps, I couldn’t really see them. It was just the feeling that something was wrong, very wrong. Then, the ghostly flicking started to converge into a human face smoothly evolving.

You will sit there with me and, for days, you will watch distracted the movie. We will laugh for few minutes when a funny sequence of baby-like faces spots. But we will be bored when they are still there after hours.

I will tell you how humans are great at recognizing and distinguishing faces. We see faces even where they don’t exist. But our brains were shaped to distinguish individuals within communities of few thousand people, not one billion.

You will be mild interested when I mention that during the eight months that this movie will continuously play, half million of those faces will die; but that this lost would be more than compensated by the 40 million new faces that will have been born in the same period.

After a couple of weeks, we will be silent. But not due to the hypnotic monotony of the movie. This will be a tense silence. In the beginning, we won’t be able to pinpoint what was wrong, but then it will be clear that the face on the screen is becoming more and more like yours.

After few minutes, we will be just staring at you at the screen. For twenty seconds, your face will be there. About one thousand faces just like yours. Identical non-genetic twins, who would had remained unknown for you were not for my movie.

You will say that it’s no big deal, that you don’t feel your individuality threatened by knowing that you shared your face with many other people. But it won’t take you long to stand up, tell me that you are tired of this useless movie, and live.

I will stay. I will also see my own face after few days. I will lie to myself reassuring my self-confidence, too; and I will force myself to stay.

I will sit there, watching the movie for the remaining weeks, until the ghostly monsters at the other extreme of my one billion sorted faces start to flick and the film ends.

I will remain in the dark room for a long while, wondering whether our feelings and pains, our desires and dreams, our emotions and memories wouldn’t also be diluted within a continuum spectrum of one billion souls.


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Categories: Cognitive Sciences, Fiction, Life Sciences

Tags: , , ,

3 replies

  1. Hola Cesar… Un complejo, pero, muy interesante y pronfundo artículo nos llevando a creer que por detrás de un bilión de rostros sería posible encontrar a nuestro propio rostro, o sea, por cuenta de nuestro patrón genético. En un caso real de un filme como mencionastes, a principio sería necesaro mucha paciencia y una profunda percepción para llegar a una conclusión, además de que el cerébro humano busca crear imágenes hasta en una paisaje, en una montaña o hasta mismo en una nube, encontrando rostros y distintas formaciones, pero, lo mejor de todo está al final de su artículo, dónde usted menciona de la posibilidad de encontrar a través de un espectro continuo a los sentimientos humanos dentro de un bilión de almas…


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