SA blind to infinite facial recognition opportunities

Read time 4min 20sec

South Africa is missing out on a gem of an opportunity by not maximising the potential of biometric facial recognition technologies in the law enforcement, medical and financial sectors.

This was the word from Robert Bravery, manager and senior developer at IQbusiness South Africa, speaking to ITWeb on the side-lines of the DevConf event, in Johannesburg yesterday.

Discussing the value of facial recognition and facial detection technologies, Bravery explained that while this is not new technology, its advancement over the years and ease of use can bring about a revolution in helping cross-sector organisations use the human face to draw a wide range of data, creating new opportunities and lowering productivity time.

"SA is holding back on innovative use of facial recognition technologies, which add much value in creating use-cases that can change the country. Facial recognition augments our current position as human beings and cuts down production times spent on sourcing certain information.

"With the high rate of missing children in SA, this technology can be used to track down abducted children, even years after they have gone missing.

"Law enforcement officers can also use the technology to cut down on the time they spend trying to match a sketched drawing of a wanted criminal to a big database. In home security, a smart security system can be set to not unlock the doors it if it doesn't recognise the owner's face."

While some cities in SA have installed CCTV camera systems which are integrated with biometric capabilities, Bravery believes deployment is taking place at a much slower pace than in global countries, failing to enable SA to reap unprecedented opportunities.

He referenced Spanish bank CaixaBank, which offers customers the opportunity to use facial recognition technology rather than a PIN number to withdraw cash from ATMs. Another use case is payment service provider Alipay's Dragonfly, a self-service facial recognition payment technology used by thousands of merchants in China.

"The introduction of facial recognition technology for authorisation has great potential in the financial industry. This means that even if a criminal steals a customer's bank card, they will not be able to withdraw at the ATM, or make payments if the card-owner's face is not recognised by the system. This can play an important role in fighting crime and tracking the location of a criminal through ATM surveillance cameras."

Healthy applications

Bravery pointed out that a facial recognition scan could soon become part of a standard medical check-up in other countries.

New software called DeepGestalt uses algorithms to identify facial characteristics linked to genetic disorders and other medical conditions, helping healthcare professionals identify illnesses years before they manifest in a patient.

"The science behind this is based on the idea that certain elements of a human being's face can provide information that can help medical experts pre-empt what medical conditions an individual is prone to having in future. Other facial recognition technologies have the ability to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease and Schizophrenia. While these technologies haven't reached mainstream yet, they are expected to gain traction in the near future."

Microsoft has introduced Seeing AI, an app that uses a Microsoft Cognitive Services application programming interface and facial recognition technology to verbally reveal the visual world to blind and low-vision people.

"This technology can read text out loud and describe everyday scenes. It can also recognise people based on their faces, and provide a description of their appearance, including their gender and facial expression," noted Bravery.

Overcoming obstacles

Among the many reasons SA is holding back on its use of facial recognition in the private and government sectors is the fear of false identification of people and having to deal with the consequences thereof. Other reasons include the possible loss of jobs to automation and perceived high implementation costs of facial recognition technologies, he said.

"While facial recognition is often preferred over fingerprint scanning because of its non-contact process, it is not always accurate. Its aim is to provide a set of possible results, not ultimate results. For instance, in criminal cases where two faces indicate a match, this should not be seen as the final result, as further investigation has to take place.

"As far as the technology being anticipated to replace jobs is concerned, for every job that is replaced, there will be several new roles erupting. Who's going to write facial recognition code? Who's going to maintain that code?

"At the moment, SA is standing at the edge of a great opportunity and is blind to these possibilities," concluded Bravery.

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