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Facial Recognition: For The Better?

Facial recognition, a technological system capable of verifying (or identifying) a person from a digital image or video, isn’t a new concept. Commonly associated with science fiction, facial recognition is making its way into our everyday lives in a number of ways, but how is it being used for the better?

An introduction to facial recognition systems

Woodrow Wilson Bledsoe developed a system in the 1960s that classified photos of faces by hand using a RAND tablet – a device that was used to input horizontal and vertical coordinates on a grid using a stylus that emitted electromagnetic pulses. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that accuracy increased. Goldstein, Harmon and Lesk used 21 specific subjective markers including lip thickness and hair colour to identify faces automatically.

The Eigenface approach, developed by Sirovich and Kirby in 1988, started as a search for a low-dimensional representation of facial images and resulted in feature analysis that could form a set of basic features on a collection of facial images.

Since then, facial recognition systems have advanced significantly, making the technology accessible to everyone, not just those in the Minority Report. Last year, for example, Apple released the iPhone X, advertising face recognition as one of its new primary features.

You’re how old?

We’ve seen many industries benefit from this technology in recent years; airports are (supposedly) improving travellers convenience and security, mobile phone companies are providing consumers with new layers of biometric security and retailers are preventing crime and violence. Just recently, Chinese internet giant Tencent began trialling a facial recognition age-check system to limit the amount of time children spend playing its Honor of Kings online game.

Driven by the Chinese government’s growing restrictions on video games, Tencent is verifying players’ ages by matching their faces to government records. The time allotted to children is based on their ages. In recent years the World Health Organisation officially classified ‘gaming addiction’ as a mental disorder, will this advancement alter the likelihood of gaming addiction in children and young adults? Only time will tell.

Similarly, reports suggest UK supermarkets are going to adopt facial recognition technology at self-checkouts to verify the age of customers buying products. When a customer attempts to purchase an age-restricted product such as alcohol, the camera will scan their face and estimate their age.

Reliability and responsibility

While the theory behind these decisions is legitimate there is one clear concern: the reliability of facial recognition. Currently, there is not sufficient data to assess the true accuracy of the age detecting system which may throw a spanner in the works.

A recent global study of 25,000 consumers found that 97% believe brands have a responsibility to use technology ethically. Most crucially 94% of consumers said that if brands can’t use technology ethically, governments should step in, which they are beginning to in certain industries.

So, to answer, facial recognition, when it works, is helping us for the better. If it helps to reduce the likelihood of gaming addiction, cuts down the amount of minors illegally accessing alcohol and shortens airport queues, then it’s a yes from us!

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