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Facial Recognition Software Gives New Meaning to the Concept of “Saving Face”

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Imagine being able to walk past an automated security checkpoint without swiping a card, just by showing your face. Similarly, imagine being able to know when a visitor has arrived to your office, without having them check in at a front desk and without having someone call to inform you. Face++, a Beijing-based startup software company founded by three graduates of Tsinghua University, is building facial recognition software that makes the above scenarios possible, according to the Global Times.

Face++ provides facial recognition software that detects 106 facial points. This makes it possible for many other companies to leverage facial recognition technology to perform crucial business functions seamlessly. Specifically, more than 5,000 customers use the platform that Face++ has built to develop different applications.

For instance, Alipay, the financial unit of ecommerce behemoth Alibaba, uses this software to allow its customers to reset passwords by using facial recognition. Additionally, Meitu, the Chinese beauty and photo editing application, uses this technology to map its users’ facial features. Finally, a cashier-less convenience store in Beijing installed a facial recognition system with the help of Face++. This system allows the store’s customers to scan a QR code at the entrance and have their information be uploaded to the system. Customers can then pick up the items they wish to purchase and put them on a checkout table, where a sensor identifies the items. To prevent shoplifting, a camera located at the exit of the store can recognize customers’ facial information and detect whether the items have been paid for. The 30-meter store has been registering sales of about ¥2,000 ($298) per day, and also happens to be the first unmanned store in Beijing in which Face++ has implemented its facial recognition software.

But before you think that this may be a passing fad, both China and the United States consider artificial intelligence as part of their national strategies, and as of June 2017, there were a total of 2,542 AI companies worldwide, according to a report released by Tencent on August 2, 2017. Further, total venture capital investment in the AI industry globally has amounted to ¥191.4 billion ($28.55 billion) since the year 1999, with China accounting for 33.18 percent of the total investment. In China, AI is no longer a foreign concept, as image analysis is being applied in security cameras, while user-profiling technology is being adopted by software companies to customize online advertisements that their users see, according to a report released by China International Capital Corp in June 2017.

Indeed, the facial recognition software developed by Face++ can be used as an advanced security tool, and identify humans instantly. In fact, according to the Global Times, this software has helped police in 25 Chinese provinces apprehend more than 500 escaped criminals.

The benefits, and indeed, possibilities, appear limitless for facial recognition technology, as it seems to be applicable to a wide variety of businesses and sectors, such as finance, retail, software, security, and even in crime fighting. However, the sheer power of facial recognition software also brings forth numerous questions and implications. For example, what happens when there is a bug with the software, thus causing cases of mistaken identities, and resulting in the wrong people being arrested for crimes they never committed? Further, what if we automate crucial business functions, resulting in millions of jobs lost? Finally, what happens if companies start abusing user-profiling technology and invading customers’ privacy? We will have to consider the above scenarios, among others, if we wish to make facial recognition software a part of our daily lives.

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