Remember the famous show ‘White Collar’ where they use face restructuring to recognize a felon who used plastic surgery to hide his real identity. Or the Bourne Trilogy where they used facial recognition on every step to catch Jason Bourne. Fascinating, isn’t it? The concept has now moved out of reel world and is finally becoming a part of real mainstream life. Right from Amazon’s Rekognition to iPhone X’s Face ID technology, this one has been a deal maker everywhere.
Synthetic facial recognition gets life from enhanced ability of cameras to select a facial image, process it, and analyse it to identify people on the basis of their facial characteristics. There are many who believe that this concept will help making our society safer while some are of the opinion that its implications will be far worse than anticipated. Though the technology is still in its juvenile stage the debate is really turning into a damn interesting one with every passing day.
Surely, someday we will have some serious rules and laws regarding its use or ‘misuse’. But before we go that far, let’s understand the present and what can it do for us now.
First, Let’s Understand The Science Behind It
Facial recognition technology works through a biometric software that can identify and verify a face from a digital image. It works in three phases – face detection, scanning, creation of targets/fingerprints, match and finally verification. Just like some visual search engine tool, this technique works through identification of some key factors in busy environments which makes it quite useful to pick up individuals and use them in crowded places. Applications of this concept are huge and final result will depend on how you decide to use it.
Though it can be used anywhere but recently it made its way into the high-end smartphones domain. NEC is providing a more advanced alternative for portable screens. NEC’s NeoFace Smart ID claims that it can offer targeted high-end application for smartphones and tablets. This developed version provides facial identification with more precision and data recording along with integrated collection of identifying data. It may also include add-ons like demographic data, vocal patterns, and fingerprints. All these details can be then stored in a unified database or some local information platform like a watch list.
But the major question is what are the implication of this technology? Who is right – those who favor it or those who are warning against it. Let’s take a look at both sides and then we will leave the final decision on our readers.
Like every other revolutionary concept this one too started with some highly favorable points in mind. The best ones included better safety for every single person and society as a whole. When your face is the only key that can lock or unlock your personal devices it opens up ways for much better personalization along all verticals be it domestic premises or a retail store.
Just imagine that you walk into home and have your lighting adjusted according to your personal preferences, your favorite music starts to play and as you sit in front of TV it plays your favorite channel and other stuff. You step into your grocery store and walk out of it with all your purchases while the cameras recognize your face and charge your credit card automatically. Wouldn’t it be a great relief from all those tiring lines on payment counters that sometimes consume 1-2 hours of your precious weekend.
A facial biometric system can also improve your security to quite an extent since every single individual who gets into your premise will be scanned by the biometric software. A combination of these technologies can make it tricky for anyone to get into your system or your home for that matter. With the present day technology, the face detection is getting more reliable and trustworthy.
Last point, these systems are completely automated which means you do not need to spend any amount on security guards to watch out the system. This technology is capable of fully automating your process as well as ensure precision at higher rate. It also means lower costs and better convenience.
We are all living in a world where data storage is gold and its value increases a 1000 folds when it stores information about more than 100, 000 faces. A simple breach in storage and everything can get ruined. Everything needs space which means for better efficiency of facial recognition systems, the systems only process approx. 10-25% of videos. A number of companies are using multiple computers to combat this problem and process every single thing. However, unless the technology advances to next stage, this challenge will stay in place.
Another point is about the camera angle which has a very strong impact on how a face is processed. To recognize a face, a camera needs to take pictures from several angles along with frontal profile, by 45 degrees and more than that. Any obstacles, like facial hats or hair can easily lead to some trouble. To keep away any failures or setbacks, one needs to ensure that database is updated consistently.
So, What Does The Future Holds?
So, this is about the present scenario of this technology. In China, one can easily get access to office buildings and verify ATM withdrawals. Even in Europe most high-end retailers and hotels are using it for identification of celebrity customers to ensure that you get special treatment. But there are some real world issues that might become bigger challenges in coming days. It is a big reason to worry for those who take their personal space quite seriously.
For example, NEC is promoting its facial recognition software with some noble aims like better identification as well as criminals locations and better safety of public places. It is also offering services to several corporate clients and improve protection for company premises. NEC takes leverage from advanced personal identification and is keeping a check in a non-invasive manner from greater distances. Keeping so much data in hands of private bodies and authorities can any day lead to misuse and abuse. There are also possibilities of software getting hacked which places huge amount of sensitive data into hands of data thieves.
There are a number of criminal entities that aim to breach and subvert facial recognition databases and systems. For example, there are many who assume that a facial based authentication through smartphone camera can easily be breached by holding up a specific face up over screen. Au contraire, this can easily be prevented by through inclusion of better detection of 3D facial data. Even if facial identification is fused with biometric ID data types, facial identification might not be as impactful in all cases. The same stands true in terms of personal freedom, it may easily lead to laws and legislations that mandate head and facial coverings in in public places. It further relates to a wide range of issues such as self-expression, enhanced police activity, religious issues, and so forth.
So, yes a careful consideration is needed before application of this technology. For example, London police recently made a huge mistake at the Notting Hill Carnival where the facial recognition system made more than 35 false matches between crowd and suspects and one person was arrested “erroneously”. It is expected of camera based surveillance can deliver much safeer and much more secure society. They are still far from real-life situations. Even during the 2011 London riots, this software was able to help with just one arrest out of 4962 arrests made for this reason.
People sitting in dark rooms and going through hundreds of hours of footage cannot be the future of this technology. In future, it will be secured with some important add-ons like DNA sequence analysis. Here the video will be treated just like a scene that evolves like DNA sequence does. These software techniques and tools will totally transform automated visual surveillance. In UK alone they sequenced more than three billion DNA characters but we are yet to develop the resources and software that can handle this amount of data. But yes the future is a bag of goodies that bears both sweet and bitter fruits. Whatever it is, it will be interesting enough for sure.