Face Forward - Face as Identity

06/15/2016 05:25 pm ET

Facial recognition, otherwise known as biometrics, is not a new technology. In fact, it has been in used in a manual form off and on for decades, with highly trained human practitioners carefully watching people’s faces for signs of anything from lies to euphoria to fear.

The face is usually a ‘first line of defense’ in terms of identity. In terms of technology, facial recognition already has a few real-world implementations, though they are not yet widespread. Frequent travelers, particularly those who travel overseas often, can enroll in the U.S. Global Entry program, which tags individuals using their facial profile and keeps a visual record of that person so that they can use the “fast lane” in airports and at customs. This system works despite any changes to your hairstyle, facial hair or expression in the photo at time of capture. It allows customs agents to process people far more quickly and rapidly identify those using fake credentials, flagging them without creating a major disturbance. This program will become more common as it is broadly adopted by customs processing authorities worldwide.

Another common use of facial recognition can be found in the Microsoft Xbox gaming system. The product’s Kinect system camera and motion sensor verify who each ‘player’ is at the time of device login. This type of recognition is one that a lot of organizations are experimenting with for a variety of other use cases such as ATM transactions, cashing checks, system logins and anything where businesses need to be sure that it really is you performing the action.

The use of facial recognition as a ‘broker’ for common procedures or transactions has been slowed until now by the inability to scan and process images in real-time. Now, the advent of streaming technologies such as Spark is making real-time processing capabilities accessible. Fast-paced computing and storage resources, major advances in big data management and integration technologies are also making it significantly easier to analyze images in real-time.

Man Hunting

Every coin has a flip side. When you choose to provide your image to streamline access to a device or account, you’ve made a decision to opt-in. As surveillance and facial recognition systems become more pervasive and sophisticated it will be increasingly common for both state and non-state actors to use these data sources for identification. Couple this fact with our addiction to social media and constant streams of selfies, snap-chats and photos of everything we do, see, and eat and we have all created a publicly exposed trove of easily accessible images that can be used by anyone.

As noted in a recent BBC article, it’s becoming increasingly easy for anyone with even basic tools and access to computing resources to crunch through vast amounts of data online and discover a person’s identity without anything more than their picture. In our connected, always-on world, we are the sum of our social profiles - and the information we share online raises complex privacy and safety issues.

The Future

Some exciting emerging projects in facial recognition are just being developed in the form of various practical applications including everything from “Pay by Selfie” to logging into your phone/tablet/PC with your face. These emerging uses for facial recognition will continue to push the boundaries of the technology and the accuracy of analytics well ahead of where they are today. Security concerns will also be a big driver behind the exploration and perfection of facial recognition. 

Other exciting uses for facial recognition being explored today could involve advanced medical diagnostics with facial and skin imaging, public drunkenness recognition to prevent crime or safety concerns, distracted-driver recognition (although this becomes a moot point with a self-driving car), and emotional cognition for the assistance of people with learning or communication disabilities in improving their communication options.

Biometrics and specifically the area of facial recognition has limitless potential to impact both mundane and extraordinary aspects of our daily lives. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the space for business purposes – who knows, perhaps there will be an advance that creates a material opportunity for your organization. What you can bet money on is this: in the very near future, your face will open more than just doors.

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