I was invited recently by NEC to attend their briefing where Walter Lee, their Evangelist and Government Relations Leader presented to analysts and journalists about how they are winning large contracts across various sectors in the areas of biometrics and surveillance. Biometrics is not just used as a way to drive greater security, but is also helping increase speed in processing times, reducing waiting period in queues and used as a way to drive efficiency and reduce costs which was highlighted by Lee through the various projects NEC had won recently.
NEC’s Artificial intelligence (AI) engine, NeoFace’s strength lies in its tolerance of poor-quality images. The NeoFace solution can match images with low resolutions down to 24 pixels between the eyes and this has allowed it to demonstrate the matching accuracy which is hard to achieve for most vendors offering Facial Recognition solutions. It is its ability to work across various challenges around low resolution, light and images that has allowed NEC to be one of the leading suppliers of Facial Recognition solutions globally.
Key Case Studies Presented
In 2018 Delta Airlines launched the first ‘biometric terminal’ in the US at the international terminal in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. The biometric push according to Lee replaces tickets and customers now check in by using their face. The system recognises their face and they are checked in. Customers no longer need to use their passports to get through checkpoints around the airport. Lee emphasised on how it takes 9 minutes to board an international flight. Apart from driving identification and security, this use case highlights how airports around the world can increase efficiency in their overall check in and boarding processes at airports. Other core benefits derived from this implementation include better security for border control, seamless service, speed of boarding (savings of 9 minutes per flight). Privacy issues were addressed with regards to where the data was residing and how long the data would be kept for and in this case the data was kept for only 24 hours.
According to the global Ecosystm AI study of current and planned Facial Recognition adoption by industry, the transportation industry is leading the number of deployments globally.
Adoption of Facial Recognition by Industries
Another case study presented is the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo., for which NEC will provide the Facial Recognition solution. The solution will be used to identify over 300,000 people at the games including athletes and officials. It is the first time that Facial Recognition technology will be used for this purpose at an Olympic Games. The NEC solution will allow the matching of tens of thousands of faces in a nano second according to Lee.
The Tokyo 2020 implementation will involve linking photo data with an IC card to be carried by accredited people. NEC says that it has the world’s leading face recognition tech based on benchmark tests from the US’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
NEC has years of experience in biometrics and Facial Recognition. Not many vendors have solutions that can capture vast amounts of images in a nano second. Their solutions are used by some of the largest organisations in the world. NEC has also perfected the art of handling low resolution images which if not analysed accurately can lead to unintended consequences. The ability to process low resolution images with speed and accuracy is not something that is easily achievable. Security and the rise of terrorism are some of the needs as to why Facial Recognition is important. Additionally, speed and efficiency in administrating passenger boarding at airports whilst ensuring that the security and identity checks have been made is important. The Delta Airlines case study is a great example of how there can be a savings of 9 minutes per flight. NEC continues to gain traction in the market and the Ecosystm AI study has them as one of the top vendors being evaluated for planned implementations for Facial Recognition globally.
The benefits of Facial Recognition solutions are huge – however there must be greater scrutiny around the possible outcomes of AI. Whilst regulation on AI is still at its infancy, 2019 and 2020 will see greater scrutiny and regulation around AI implementations. These will be directed towards protecting individual’s data but also there will be greater emphasis on addressing issues around privacy, ethics and bias in AI implementations. Feeding the machine with the right data (unbiased and ethical) and measuring the various outcomes before the project goes live must be looked at with greater diligence.
2 weeks ago, San Francisco became the first US city to ban the use of Facial Recognition technology by the police and local government agencies. One of the reasons for the ban was with regard to bias. When designing the systems, if technology specialists feed the wrong information for example recognising only a certain skin colour, then the problem of making the wrong and unwanted assumptions start arising. The ecosystem of players in the AI industry ranging from government, academia right down to vendors have a greater role to play in ensuring ethics and bias issues are addressed from the onset of the project. There are consultants in the market as I highlighted in my recent Ecosystm report, that prepare companies for the impact of ethics, fairness and bias. We can expect more of such consultancies and specialist agencies to grow in the market.
NEC has taken this into consideration and published a set of principles for the application of biometrics and AI. The “NEC Group AI and Human Rights Principles” will guide the company along the lines of privacy and human rights. These initiatives were led by the Digital Trust Business Strategy Division, in collaboration with several other divisions within the company, as well as industry stakeholders including industry experts and non-profit organisations.