Coming soon: Computer finds the face of Jesus in a photo of toast

You know how your brain likes to see faces where there are not actually any faces? (Hint: This tendency, called pareidolia, is the force behind all those faces of Jesus turning up on slices of toast.) Turns out, computer programs can suffer from pareidolia, too. (Via Alexis Madrigal)


  1. Every pattern recognition system suffers from false positives (you see something that isn’t there) as well as false negatives (you miss something that is there). With computers, we can tweak the threshold to be more sensitive or less sensitive. Evolution has tweaked us in favor of false positives, since it’s far better to be spooked by a shadow that looks like a predator than to fail to notice a real predator.

  2. One of the interesting effects of psychedelics is that your brain apparently spends a lot of its time doing this sort of pattern-matching, and tripping slows down the filters that throw away most of the obvious false matches.  Like the faces in all those trees that are grooving along with you on the way home after the Grateful Dead concert. 

    (Or, umm, so they say anyway.) 

  3. I used to work at a supercomputer center, where part of my job was scanning the currently running jobs to identify anything that was misbehaving. On one of these sweeps I found a process named “jesus_finder” running. Turned out it was a piece of facial-recognition software designed to learn and identify images of the traditional euro-Jesus. One of the test images was, of course, Jesus on Toast.

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