Facial recognition in UAE: How will it change lives
The use of this technology could lessen the need for traditional means of identification such as official documents.
The UAE Cabinet recently approved a proposal to employ facial recognition technology to further develop services provided by private and government sectors.
The use of this technology could lessen the need for traditional means of identification such as official documents, make various services seamless, and also secure processes.
Over time, our face could well be our digital identity, and allow us seamless access to places and establishments without the need for access or identification cards. “Facial recognition is a pathway to digital transformation. You can have paperless borders; automation can ease travel and make access to several services more efficient and faster,” said Dr Ali Raza, Professor of Computing Sciences, overlooking the digital transformation lab and a consultant to government agencies in the region.
In the UAE, the biometric system using facial recognition is in use at Dubai international airport. Thousands of CCTV cameras cover public transport, traffic, and several tourist hotspots, and Dubai Police have digitally tracked criminals in the city simply by uploading their mugshots into a database. The technology is being used in other emirates too.
Besides, in our personal lives, we use this technology to tag friends, family, or perhaps unlock our phones. The ubiquity of the use of facial recognition is just a matter of time, especially seeing the pace at which this technology is evolving. It can be put to use in different spheres.
This technology has been around for decades. It was in the early 60s when Woody Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf, and Charles Bisson first used computers to recognise the human face. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that facial recognition was better understood and applied to practical use. A programme developed by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology eventually led to more sophisticated automatic technology, which made it popular. The evolving nature of artificial intelligence, advances in deep learning, and systems for processing faster amounts of data have helped the technology come closer to its full potential. This has even led to higher accuracy and faster processing time, which makes it more user-friendly and practical for use.
Over the last few years, it is not just governments that have been keen to adopt this technology, primarily from a law-and-order enforcement perspective, but private companies too are diving in and investing in it. The global market for facial recognition is expected to reach $8.5 billion by 2025. The optimism surrounding artificial intelligence and its offshoots such as facial recognition are immense. It is making systems and services more efficient, secure, helping save time and easing various processes.
The UAE has been at the forefront of implementing technology to improve lives of people here and also make the country safer and more secure. Implementation of FR in government and private services in the UAE promises to usher in a new era of growth and development.
What is Facial recognition?
Facial recognition is a biometric tool, just like the one used to capture fingerprints, or iris recognition. It identifies a person based on specific aspects of their physiology.
How does it work?
Facial recognition largely follows two basic steps:
1-Measure facial features: The software identifies each face with nodal points. Once the picture of a face is captured, either real time or using a photo or video, the software takes various measurements. This could include distance between the eyes, the length of the temple area, the width of the nose, depth of eye sockets, distance between cheeks, or length of the face from forehead to chin. Software may collect up to 80 different measurements of the face.
2-Convert data into facial signature: This information is then converted into a mathematical formula which represents a unique facial signature. The unique signature is then compared to a database of such information. All this happens in a matter of seconds.
Why is this new tech creating a lot of buzz
What is driving the debate on the aspect of facial recognition (FR) is its use by law enforcement agencies when this technology is still far from perfect. “There is evidence that FR technology can recognise men better than women. Many facial recognition algorithms produce make mistakes on non-white faces,” says Shalini Verma, CEO, Pivot technologies.
Besides, it is not difficult to fool FR systems. Researchers have already developed anti-facial recognition glasses which makes wearers undetectable.
“The biggest impediment to the adoption and acceptance of this technology is the public perception. But if you look at some recent examples, you will see how this technology can really help improve safety and security of people. For instance, the insurrection of Capitol Hill on January 6. With facial recognition technology, it would have been very difficult to catch the perpetrators,” argues Dr Ali Raza, Professor of Computing Sciences.
It was some years ago when Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy had said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it,” and dismissed concerns about digital privacy.
While we do not dismiss privacy concerns completely, we need to understand that a majority of us are already living our lives in the online world. Many of us gleefully share our important personal data to know our personality type, or horoscope. Friends and families are tagged to ensure no one misses an important update or chance to join a conversation. We dish out email address and phone numbers on apps and websites without knowing how our information will be used. But such skepticism is relegated more to private firms as opposed to its use by governments.
As the use of such technology becomes ubiquitous, the risks of adversarial attack also rise. “There will always be cases where a hacker might be able to fool the system, and unfortunately we are already seeing this. Security threats are huge. Everything is available through open source, which can be accessed by researchers like me who use the knowledge and technology for greater good, or it can be accessed by hackers. The system is open to all,” adds Dr Raza.
High-security zones to benefit from digital imaging services
The most prominent use of facial recognition (FR) has been for security purposes at border controls, airports, high-security buildings, etc.
But over the last few years, its use has been creatively explored by various industries, including fashion and retail. “The FR software is starting to appear in banking and finance industry, retail, transportation, manufacturing, hospitality,” says Shalini Verma, CEO, Pivot technologies.
The Department of Homeland Security in the US uses facial recognition to find people who have overstayed their visas, or who are under criminal investigation.
Beyond the realms of law, FR has the potential to make life more convenient. Automotive companies, for instance, are exploring ways to integrate FR in cars and use this way of identity authentication to replace car keys. Firms in the government and private sector could perhaps replace access cards with FR technology. Colleges can use it to keep campus safe and also use it for attendance.
“In post-pandemic era, replacing fingerprint ID with facial ID is a viable option from a health standpoint,” adds Verma.
At present, technology is increasingly being used in mobile devices and consumer products as a way to authenticate users.
In the UAE, the government is already using facial recognition for crime prevention and public safety. Going forward, it can also use it to shore up the travel and tourism sector.
One of the key advantages in the private sector, will be access control — accessing services and locations. Biometric and facial recognition can expedite treatment at hospitals, especially in case of an accident victim. If the systems can identify the patient, access to his national ID, insurance plan, medical history, etc., doctors can straightaway provide medical treatment.
Research labs too will hugely benefit from facial recognition by ensuring access to space to the selected few.
In the future, facial recognition could be used to target products to specific groups by gender or age to offer a personalised experience or boost patient care at hospitals and clinics.
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