NEC Australia pivots facial recognition to help shed new light on notorious cold case

NEC Australia has teamed up with Channel Nine’s Under Investigation with Liz Hayes to help shed new light on one of Australia’s most haunting cold cases, the disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon from Adelaide Oval in 1973.

For decades there have been two main suspects in the case which saw Joanne (11 years old) and Kirste (4 years old) abducted from an AFL game at Adelaide Oval. The girls were never found, and law enforcement has long suspected either Arthur Stanley Brown or Stanley Arthur Hart to have been involved with the crime.

Using NEC’s world leading facial recognition technology, composite sketches given by witnesses to the crime, and a research database of over 5000 headshots, NEC Australia’s Principal Advisor - Data Privacy and Ethics, Sylvia Jastkowiak, has identified the key person of interest in this case.

Ms Jastkowiak said emerging technologies like facial recognition offers endless use cases and untapped potential, especially the more advanced it gets. “This was such a unique opportunity for NEC to not only showcase the incredible potential that facial recognition technology holds, but to help drive forward one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries”.

“As technology continues to mature and innovate, cold cases like this one have the potential to be explored in a whole new way. It is also an example of how such advanced technologies can be applied for the greater good for society”.

To conduct the testing, various images of the suspects were input into a research database containing over 1500 images of people unrelated to the crime in any way. NEC’s facial recognition algorithm then compared all the images to the composite sketch which was developed from eyewitness accounts of the crime. From this the algorithm would rank the images based on the most likely match to the sketch.

“By pivoting NEC’s facial recognition technology for use as a research tool, I conducted the comparative test several times. The results overwhelmingly point to one suspect as the key person of interest,” said Ms Jastkowiak.

“The key benefit of applying facial recognition technology to a case like this is that it’s free of cognitive bias and draws its conclusions purely from data and information. The results of NEC’s tests only take into account the data in the suspects facial images. In a case as tragic as this one, objectivity and data are critical to hopefully one day finding some answers.”

To view the full episode of Under Investigation, head to Channel 9’s website

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Liz Ackroyd
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