What’s in a Face? The Challenges and Rewards of AI-Fueled Facial Recognition

As you may know from some of my previous posts, I’m really keen on facial recognition for lots of applications, particularly events. But, as with a lot of new technologies, it’s taking time to really get traction.

We recently added facial recognition to open the Zuant app when scanning badges at tradeshows so you’re not constantly fiddling around looking for or trying to remember your password. It’s a great timesaver, as remembering/inputting passwords are huge irritations in our digital world. I’m a big fan of Dashlane, which has greatly lessened my password hell!

Adoption Factors:  Privacy Concerns

One of the big factors holding back the adoption of facial recognition is to worry about its wider use in day-to-day life. It’s a bit like all those old concerns on the use of CCTV. It has always worried me in the background, with a feeling of Big Brother watching. But now, many years later, most of us accept that the benefits outweigh those lurking fears.

But, those worries are certainly back with a vengeance with facial recognition combined with AI, which could be the perfect storm.  For instance, this is true in Britain right now, after it emerged recently that London’s Metropolitan Police plan to deploy cameras with facial recognition and AI capabilities. Local newspapers dubbed it “Big Brother Goes London Wide” – and all sorts of groups started screaming about potential privacy breaches. The police insist these cameras are merely the latest weapons to fight crime. It’s hard to know where to draw the line in a world of CCTV!

Read more: Smile: You’re on Candid Camera! Facial Recognition Comes of Age

Then there’s an intriguing Intel-sponsored research paper: ‘AI Among Us: Agency in a World of Cameras and Recognition Systems’. Six locations were studied where facial recognition is used: two in the US (a school and a police force); and four institutions in China, including schools.

In China, the researchers found the technology is already so commonplace that it sparked little comment among those interviewed. “Facial recognition interactions in China are stunning because they are so normative and normalized,” the paper notes, describing how the researchers observed people “smiling” at cameras as they use bank machines, buy things or enter buildings.

As the researchers put it: “In a society that has had overt and everyday surveillance in human and institutional form for over 70 years, the emergence and deployment of recognition through cameras has been far less controversial than in the USA.”

Clearly, part of this may reflect the difficulty of expressing dissent in China’s authoritarian system, as well as censorship of news stories about the more controversial uses of facial recognition; we only have to see how the Coronavirus outbreak was hidden too long from the start to re-appreciate this.

Pros vs. Cons

The key to all this is what makes facial recognition and AI so sensitive to most of us.  We must weigh the pros and cons of these powerful technologies. This is often contradictory and can change over time. Clearly, looking at the Intel research, it’s going to vary across cultures in ways we might ignore if we’re not careful.

In the marketing world, fortunately, there’s really no Big Brother issue. Most people show attendees are comfortable registering online for a show to receive a barcoded badge on a lanyard. And these folks are just as happy to supply a photo of themselves to ensure a smoother, faster service moving through an event and attending different sessions. And for event organizers, of course, this improves security immensely. An API integrates into existing event management platforms, enhancing the attendee journey from registration to check-in. Attendees register before the event with one click using their social media profiles. Alternatively, they can upload a picture or take a selfie with their own device; it’s that simple.

So far, we haven’t seen this tech get into mainstream events and shows, but it won’t be long now. And you’re going to wonder how you ever managed without it!

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