A few years ago now, some big city, either Manchester or that other one, paid about seven million quid for a facial recognition system that would plug into the city centre CCTV and allow the authorities to quickly spot and track down malcontents, miscreants and general riffraffery. The system was turned on with great fanfare, only for it to rapidly become clear that... it didn't work. At all. Further investigation revealed that not only did it not work, it had never worked in the first place.
Which is the first time I've ever felt sorry for a bit of software, because my own facial recognition system is at best somewhat glitchy (it has been pointed out in the comments below that the technical term for this is prosopagnosia) . Mind you, that CCTV system didn't even recognise black people as being human beings as opposed to, say, strangely mobile bits of building or shrubbery, and I'm not quite that bad. No-one's ever paid seven million quid for me to turn up for a thing that I can not only not do, but also be a massive racist into the bargain (I'm sure someone will let me know if I misremember).
My not-goodness at faces would lead to conversations like this one, in my early twenties:
FRIEND: Why do you keep blanking me in town?
ME: I've never blanked you!
FRIEND: You regularly walk past me, and you only spot me if I put my face in front of yours and say HELLOOOOOO!
ME: Yes! That's how people recognise each other from a distance of more than eight inches, surely?
FRIEND: HOW CAN YOU NOT RECOGNISE MY FACE WE'VE BEEN BEST FRIENDS SINCE WE WERE FOURTEEN.
ME: Yes, well, you say that.
FRIEND: We've also shared a house for the last four years.
ME: PROVE IT.
I realised a while ago this also partly explains my long struggle to deal with abstract concepts like plot and narrative structure, because if you're not great at face, the film-watching experience goes like this:
ME: okay, the dark-haired guy in this who stabbed someone earlier is now arresting... himself! Wait, they're two different people! He's cloned himself! This film is BRILLIANT! Oh wait, they're two different people. And now the blond woman has gone back in time to fight her earlier self - oh that's her sister.
FRIEND: I'm not watching films with you any more.
Anyway, after that, I put a lot more processing power into actors' faces, and now I'm all 'ooh he was Phoebe's boyfriend in series one of Friends, that guy was in Grosse Point Blank for about thirty seconds' and so on, which is just as annoying but in the other direction.
I also got better at actual real life peoples' faces once I tried out the whole 'eye contact' thing, but the system still crashes from time to time, thusly:
A couple of years ago:
INT. PRODUCTION OFFICE - DAY
I am waiting to meet a lovely producer I worked with on a fun project about six months previous. An unfamiliar lady, a PA I assume, wanders out and starts talking to me about a new project, which is nice, but we should probably wait until the producer is here. After about half an hour I start to wonder if the producer is ever going to turn up, and then the penny drops.
ME: Wait, it's you! You had a haircut!
ME: (quickly) Nothing.
AND NOW WE ARE UP TO SPEED. Well, yesterday. I am in an animation workshop, involving four other writers and a lady producer (I haven't seen a man producer in about five years, I think they've all died out). Having drunk an enormous amount of coffee, I suddenly realise I quite need what the americans refer to as a 'bathroom break', so I dash out, and then I dash back again, because I don't want to miss anything. Bearing in mind I also have quite poor spacial awareness (if you are thinking to yourself that this writer is possibly a couple of steps into the 'bit special' spectum, I would say this: BINGO), I run back in roughly the same direction, see a group of people through a glass door, crash through and sit down.
There follows a moment of silence, at which point it occurs to me I am quite possibly IN THE WRONG ROOM ENTIRELY and about to utterly derail series six of Game of Thrones or something.
Quickly I cast my mind back to a few seconds ago and try to recall the exact faces I saw through the glass door. All I can come up with is that they were definitely faces.
It's still silent. Suddenly I remember: it was a comedy/animation writers' workshop. Beards! Beards are the answer! I look up very slightly and assess the beardage in a clockwise direction. Fair beard, dark beard, lady producer with no beard, dark beard, ginger beard. I reach up to my own face, bit stubbly, this probably is me. I am almost definitely in the correct room. It's still a bit quiet though. Finally:
PRODUCER: All right, James?
ME: YES AND I AM DEFINITELY BACK IN THE ORIGINAL ROOM THAT I LEFT AND YOU ARE ALL THE SAME PEOPLE AHA HA HA.
Anyway, it all worked out fine.