Biometrics: Why facial recognition tech will go mainstream in 2018

OPINION / 16th January 2018

Machines that can read your face will go mainstream in 2018, changing the way we live and the way we work. Within the next year, devices in your pocket, such as the iPhone X, along with banking apps and security cameras on the high street, will be able to recognise you using pioneering facial recognition technology just by scanning your face.

Although this technology is still in its infancy here in the UK, by the end of 2018 there will be hundreds of facial recognition devices out in the world. One country already ahead of the game is China, which is seen as the harbinger of the future for this kind of tech. Companies there have access to a government image database of 700 million people, half its population.

Much of this tech is being widely used in security, counter-terrorism and policing, but many commercial organisations are using it too. Fast food restaurants are allowing their customers to pay for food in this way, some are even using it to predict and remember people's food choices. Many Chinese theme parks have also begun to use it instead of requiring people to buy a ticket. Even, strangely, facial recognition technology is being used to try and catch people who steal loo paper from public toilets.

Using your face to unlock your phone or get into an app is just the beginning of how this revolutionary technology can be used. Engineers at an Israeli company have invented a simple way of transforming a photo into text. The Tel Aviv based company, Face-Six, has developed a facial recognition model that can measure the distance between a person’s eyes, the width of a person’s lips, and the distance from a person’s lips to their nose; at the end of this process they are left with a simple text, which is the basis of its facial recognition. This software has the power to identify one face from millions in under one second. Its accuracy, in a controlled environment, is around 99%; it’s this precision that will bring facial recognition into the mainstream.

Facial recognition software can also be used in a number of useful ways by a range of sectors:

Airports

A facial recognition pilot project is underway in Norway’s airports to detect travellers entering the airport. It tracks passengers through the terminal until they board their plane. Undertaken by a team of researchers in Norway, the aim of the trial is to smooth travellers’ passage through the airport and disperse queues. Researchers have said that rather than stop every single person at an airport gate, they’ve developed algorithms that recognise people’s faces, based on electronic passports with a photo and ID number.

Identifying Missing Persons

In a more unusual field, facial recognition tech is being used to accurately show how people will age from an original photo. The algorithm has been trained using thousands of images of humans at various stages of their life, with the system shown the way faces tend to change as they age. The hope is that the project will help officials undertaking missing persons searches, by providing a realistic portrayal of how someone might look, even years after their disappearance.

Policing

The UK Police currently have in the upward region of 16 million images of faces, obtained from mugshots and during questioning that could be used to identify people. They have been experimenting with facial recognition technology for several years, with a degree of success. Earlier this year a man was arrested in South Wales after facial recognition software spotted him in footage collected from one of their vans.

Despite protests from civil liberties groups, London’s Metropolitan Police used facial recognition to police last year’s Notting Hill Carnival. In the US, a black man is appealing his controversial conviction, in which facial recognition tech matched him with a photo taken of a suspect on a policeman’s smartphone. Many have complained that the software used has an in-built racial bias, and is most likely to be incorrect when used on black individuals – a finding sadly corroborated by the FBI’s own research.

Retailers

Retailers will soon be able to use facial recognition technology in stores to generate hyper-personalised adverts for individual customers. Machines that can read faces will be able to collect real-time data on shoppers, such as their gender, age as well as their shopping habits in store, so that retailers can target their customers with relevant and timely offers and change displays accordingly – achieving the holy grail of the right message, right time, right context.

Retail Banking

Lloyds Banking Group will be one of the first retail banks to allow its customers to use their fingerprint and/or face to log into their bank account, with many other high street banks following suit. Working in conjunction with Microsoft to tighten banking security, from 2018 customers will no longer need a password or PIN to access their accounts. Digital-first banks, such as Atom, have already launched biometric identification as standard, citing it as a faster and more secure way of signing up for services and logging in.

Schools, colleges and universities

Schools in the UK are beginning to use this tech to keep tabs on their students. City of Ely Community College, near Cambridge, is using it to take the register in the morning; instead of doing a roll call, students check in using their face. Back in China, a lecturer at Sichuan University, who teaches computer science, is using facial-recognition technology on his students to check if they're bored. Professor Wei Xiaoyong, has developed a 'face reader' to identify the emotions of his students.

Supermarkets

Next year, some supermarkets will trial using facial recognition technology, run through an app called Yoti, to check customers for age-restricted items, such as alcohol. Yoti, a London-based technology firm, has developed a free app that allows users to confirm their identity both online and in person. To set up the app, users must take a photo of themselves and scan their driving licence or passport, linking the two together. The app can then confirm the owner's identity by them taking a selfie. As yet, it is not clear which supermarkets will trial the technology.

Train stations

In the not too distant future, your face could be your ticket and gates could be invisible. Cubic Transportation Systems, the US company behind London's Oyster card technology, is working on new ticketing systems that use facial recognition, palm vein scanning and object tracking in a bid to cut down queues. The company has already demonstrated a prototype of its “FasTrak” gateless gate system at its London-based innovation centre.

ORM’s view

What facial recognition can do is allow businesses to pull a very accurate faceprint out of a photograph, which uniquely identifies a person. Although it sounds very “big-brother” now, once more people buy the iPhone X and other smartphones featuring this technology, it will start to become the norm. Although this technology raises issues around privacy, fairness and trust, many tech companies are forging ahead with their plans to make facial recognition an everyday part of our lives. If you’ve had the opportunity to use the Face ID technology on the iPhone X, the process of opening the device and paying through Apple Pay is much faster with face recognition versus the fingerprint method.

Peter Gough Peter Gough Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough