How Amazon Rekognition works, and what it’s used for

Rekognition is a developer tool with several different functions, including facial recognition, “pathing” — which involves tracking an object, like a soccer ball, through a video frame — and finding and reading text in images and on video that is hard to see with the naked eye.

Rekognition is also used for what’s known as facial analysis or sentiment analysis, which is meant to tag images as showing people who are smiling or frowning to record their projected emotions. The service uses artificial intelligence to “learn” which faces or objects are important to the individual corporate or agency user.

In the private sector, the service has been perhaps most enthusiastically adopted by companies in the marketing and advertising space, particularly those that have huge catalogs of photos and videos that they want to categorize and tag for easy searching.

According to case studies provided by Amazon, social media companies use the program to weed out “fake followers” and find “micro-influencers” who have strong followings on social networks and could be used to promote brands. The White House has used Rekognition in an application that lets users take a photo and find which first lady they most closely resemble.

Companies like ScrippsNetworks Interactive C-SPAN use the technology to more quickly sift through hours of video and gigabytes of photos in order to correctly tag individuals speaking or featured in pictures.

Financial services companies in countries where bank customers don’t have regular access to physical bank locations and rely on mobile banking, such as payments start-up Paylater, have also used the technology to validate transactions.

The “pathing” functionality allows these companies to closely track an object or player — a typical use has been in sports coverage — throughout a single video shot. The company has said the pathing function cannot be combined with facial recognition, and objects can only be tracked through a single camera-shot, not across multiple cameras.

The program can be adapted by developers for a company’s individual needs. Because this feature also takes it out of the control or overview of Amazon, many people, including some Amazon employees, have taken issue with how the technology may be used.

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