This Q&A is part of a series highlighting Florida Tech faculty, their research and their impact, which takes root on the Space Coast and extends around the globe. For it is not coincidence that brings our stellar faculty members to Florida Tech. It’s passion. Be it landing on Mars or restoring lagoon health, curing illness or protecting personal information, their passions shape our community and create powerful connections among the university, local industries and the world beyond. Faculty research isn’t just part of the job; it’s what they believe in—what they stand for. Exploration. Innovation. Progress. Research for the benefit of all humankind.
We’ve all been there, but Dr. Michael King envisions a day when the usernames, passwords and PINs of today are obsolete, and his research is propelling society that much closer.
Dr. King joined Florida Tech’s faculty in 2015 after an illustrious 14-year career in the U.S. intelligence community. Recognized as an expert in his field, Dr. King has spearheaded a broad range of biometrics and identity intelligence projects. Today, his focus is on biometric identification—for all.
As an associate professor in the department of computer engineering and sciences and a research scientist in the L3Harris Institute for Assured Information, Dr. King is taking a closer look at facial recognition technology and how it can better adapt to gender and ethnicities.
In layman’s terms, tell us about your research.
I’m envisioning the day when people can verify their identity without using any type of ID card, username/password combination, PIN code, etc. My research focuses on understanding how to automatically detect and recognize unique characteristics related to a person’s anatomy or behaviors. This technology area is commonly referred to as “biometrics.”
I’ve been actively engaged in research in the area of biometrics for nearly 20 years now. Before joining Florida Tech, I spent 14 years working in the U.S. intelligence community. The vast majority of this time was spent developing and directing large-scale projects in biometrics and identity.
Who else is involved in the research?
I have about five students who are actively involved in research with me in my L3Harris Institute for Assured Information Identity Laboratory.
Additionally, I work collaboratively with several academic researchers at other universities, including University of Notre Dame, University of Florida, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Auburn University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Pennsylvania and University of New Haven.
What are some applications of your research?
The area of biometrics is becoming increasingly important. We’re using biometrics now to do everything from logging into our phones to boarding commercial flights. And in each of these areas, providing a high level of assurance that you’re providing access to the correct person is critically important.
In research, one of the most difficult challenges to navigate is the transition of research into actual use. This is commonly referred to as the “Valley of Death” for research projects. Ultimately, I consider a research idea that is realized and becomes used to affect some positive outcome on the larger society a success.
How did you get involved in biometric research, specifically?
When I was an undergraduate, one of the things that I didn’t have much of was money. I recall the day my parents told me that they didn’t have much money—they had enough to get me to the university, but it was up to me to find a way to stay. Therefore, I needed to find support to pay for tuition, books and living expenses. One day, the dean suggested that I speak with my undergraduate academic advisor, who had just received a research award, and ask him for funding. So, I did. To make a long story short, I started my research journey in the area of neural networks as an undergraduate during the second semester of my freshman year. Later on, once I joined the government, I was formally introduced to the technology area called biometrics, in which neural networks have fueled many of the latest advancements.
Why Florida Tech?
I didn’t come up through the ranks of academia but from the leading edge of where the technology was being conceptualized and developed. Further, I started working in the intelligence community immediately after attaining my Ph.D. While I had worked with many leading scholars in my field, there wasn’t a wealth of information available to the academic community at large to validate my accomplishments. Florida Tech respected and trusted that I had something different to bring to the table.
What is your ultimate goal for your research?
In recent years, there have been questions to surface related to face recognition performance on people with darker skin. From our experiments, we were able to show that African Americans are more likely to be misidentified relative to their Caucasian counterparts. So, my goal is to enable highly accurate and seamless authentication technology that works for everyone.