The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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Facial biometrics going mainstream...

Recognizing someone by sight has been the building block of human interaction and more importantly has helped conduct commerce through the course of known history. It has helped build trust over time and eased many interactions and transactions. Of course, humans carry their very own powerful computer that instantly helps them recognize, recollect, build context and communicate effectively. In the recent times however, interactions with machines have increased substantially bringing in the need for many artificial means to establish identity - mechanisms such as cards, passwords, finger prints etc. While these have helped to an extent, humans have had to learn new ways to interact with systems while also opening up potential loop holes for exploitation.

Technology advancements in the recent times are helping make human machine interactions more natural with improvements in touch, voice, gestures and more. In order to provide seamless experiences focused more on achieving the objective rather than wrangling with the technology components, systems will have to evolve and adapt to real-time situations on the ground. These systems will also have to allay the many security concerns. Where humans could quickly discover if something is amiss such as a person trying to gain access under duress, systems will need to combine facial recognition with other biometrics such as emotion detection, voice, and gait analysis. This will go a long way to secure and rebuild trust in this increasingly Cyber Physical world.

Technology for Facial recognition has been around since the 1960s, but it has been largely outside the realm of the common man especially with usage restricted to government agencies and hi-tech security companies. It has been mainly used in areas of security ranging from tackling drug trafficking through airports to identifying criminals. Due to limitations in technology, early implementations had very limited success with a number of false positives and failures in settings such as large crowds.

Mainstream consumer implementations started with security authentication in laptops e.g. in 2008, Lenovo, Toshiba and Asus all launched laptops with capabilities of facial recognition to unlock the system. Though they had some security issues (the system needed only 50% match, hence the laptops could be opened by someone other than the actual owner of the laptop) with the facial recognition technology, it marked the foray of the technology into commercial applications. Then Google's Picasa Web Albums and Facebook rolled out their own facial recognition applications where users were able to identify faces on the uploaded pictures. Recent examples are exciting especially due to very advanced technology being used by the likes of Apple Inc. and Samsung. The Face ID feature in iPhone X allows users to access Apple Pay, Apple store, iTunes and third party apps which require biometric identification. Even KFC is experimenting with facial recognition technology in partnership with Baidu in China. The system installed in one of the KFC outlets in Beijing's financial district recommend menu items based on a customer's estimated age, mood and gender. In other forms of implementation, Walmart is also testing facial recognition applications in their stores where the system would identify varying levels of dissatisfaction among customers.

The advancements in multi-factor authentication using biometrics led by Facial recognition augmented with emotions, gestures and possibly voice are set to revolutionize the payments world. An example from an outlet of KFC in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where the company has teamed up with Alibaba's Ant Financial to launch its facial recognition based payment system 'Smile to Pay'. Through this service, customers can make the payment simply by smiling at the self-service screens. Last year MasterCard launched its 'SelfiePay' system through which users can verify payments through face verification on the MasterCard app. Even Amazon has applied for patent for an application which uses facial recognition to allow payments.

In an endeavor to provide a seamless shopping experience to customers, experts believe that adoption of such technologies would be the fastest in the retail and payments industry. As we can see with the examples above, biometric identification has gone beyond finger prints and it seems that facial recognition technology is indeed poised for primetime.


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