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Potential of Facial recognition technology is limitless

What's holding us back from adopting the technology?

Currently, FR is in use at the Changi Airport, where the technology has been integrated into a suite of Fast and Seamless Travel (FAST) systems. The Automated Immigration Gates (AIG) incorporate FR into their dual facial and thumbprint recognition system, in efforts to shorten immigration queues.

THE advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will bring about unprecedented opportunities worldwide. A study by Accenture found that AI could nearly double Singapore's annual economic growth rate by 2035, transforming the way people work and creating a new relationship between man and machine.

On May 17, 2018, the United Nations marked World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), with the theme "Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All." Within the AI field, one of the areas with the biggest potential to do good is Facial Recognition (FR). The technology has been identified by the Singapore government as a key pillar of the country's plans to become the world's first smart nation. This cutting-edge technology, which is a form of biometric identification, works by examining physical features of a person's face such as distance between the eyes, width of the nose and depth of the eye sockets. Cameras and computers combine to detect faces and then analyse a database of faces which have already been captured to find a match.

Currently, FR is in use at Singapore's Changi Airport, where the technology has been integrated into a suite of Fast and Seamless Travel (FAST) systems. For instance, the Automated Immigration Gates (AIG) incorporate FR into their dual facial and thumbprint recognition system, in efforts to shorten immigration queues. Another use can be seen at the Singapore Armed Forces' military camps to expedite the security screening process for visitors. These examples highlight one of the key benefits of FR - the improvement of our security while freeing up manpower to focus on other tasks that require human interaction.

While the most common use for facial recognition technology is security, there is so much more we can do with it. For instance, researchers have used the technology to identify mental health issues in patients, while the Paris School of Business has used it to track when students aren't paying attention so that they can identify gaps in their knowledge. In a retail setting, FR can track movements around a store. This can create a heat map to highlight hot spots, show how much time it takes for cashiers to clear long queues during peak hours, and even identify loyal customers. With this data, retailers can better allocate their manpower resources to optimise sales or plan their marketing campaigns accordingly.

While there are many ways of tapping into FR both inside and outside the business setting, few organisations are doing so. So why aren't people embracing the potential benefits of FR and what are their concerns?


In China, a recent survey found that three out of four people are worried about the threat that AI poses to their privacy, challenging the popular notion that the Chinese care little about giving up personal data.

Across Asean, similar concerns around privacy have surfaced as video feeds analysed with AI are increasingly used for crime-busting and in optimising sales and operations. Questions have been raised about how this data is stored and used, and who can have access to it.

These concerns are understandable, so the onus is on the companies that want to benefit from FR to demonstrate effective and secure video storage and management against fraudulent and irresponsible activities. On the other hand, businesses need to ensure a highly secure authentication and verification system throughout the ecosystem. For example, Milestone Systems works to ensure standards across the whole video supply chain. It only allows partners with companies that have passed the highest safety standards to be integrated with its open platform video management software (VMS). This puts in place a secure FR system for consumers, protecting them from possible data breaches and giving them a peace of mind.

The inclusion of facial recognition as a security feature in the latest generation of smartphones has brought awareness of how far the technology has come into the mainstream. However, what most people do not realise is just how powerful facial recognition technology has become. While a smartphone requires the user to be very close to the camera, commercially used FR technology can analyse faces in a crowd from a distance and still provide startling accuracy. This is thanks to an explosion in processing power in recent years which has allowed powerful computers utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to demonstrate 99.9 per cent facial recognition accuracy. This is compared to the previous generation of systems which had a rate of 95 per cent. Such percentage points make a whole lot of difference when it comes to minimising security breaches. To go a step further, security validation can be strengthened by combining FR with other forms of biometric security, such as fingerprinting. Such reliability means FR will eventually be deployed as the de facto security measure for governments and businesses.

As more and more organisations realise the accuracy of the technology, they will start to look at FR to free up manpower, redirecting their resources to complex security issues.


According to research firm IDC, spending on AI systems, such as facial recognition, in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) is expected to reach US$4.6 billion in 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of close to 73 per cent between 2016 and 2021. However, AI adoption in South-east Asia lags behind that of the wider Apac region, with lower budgets allocated to the technology.

Lack of education is often cited as a reason behind slow AI adoption. For instance, a recent study by Milestone Systems found few retailers realise the potential of video technology beyond security purposes. Most often, video is still only seen as a necessary business cost, rather than a tool that can help businesses drive growth. As more businesses learn of the benefits, more can use the technology to reach their long-term business goals.

It is hence imperative for video technology solution providers to work with governments and business groups to increase awareness of video technology's various benefits. The world of FR technology is exciting, with limitless potential on offer. As awareness of the technology continues to develop in the Asia-Pacific, businesses can look forward to more innovative ways of improving their business, while consumers can expect better services, more convenience and higher safety.

  • The writer is Vice-President, Apac, at Milestone Systems

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