Facial recognition: Coming to a gadget near you

A giant KIA video screen advertises facial recognition in prototype vehicles as patrons walk past at CES International Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Facial recognition: Coming to a gadget near you

  • Carmakers at CES were showing how facial recognition could improve and personalize the travel experience through music, entertainment and other preferences
  • Carriere said retailers can customize ads on digital signs by using this technology — so a teenage girl might not see the same message as an elderly man

LAS VEGAS: Imagine walking into a store where a robot greets you by name, lets you know that your online order is ready, and then suggests other products you might want pick up.
Facial recognition is making that possible as the technology gains traction in a range of consumer products, automobiles, and retail and hotel services, in addition to its longstanding but controversial use in law enforcement and security.
At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, exhibitors pointed to how facial recognition may be used to “personalize” experiences and enhance personal security.
While facial recognition has been on smartphones for some time, some newer uses include in care and entry systems for homes and offices, along with retail applications.
SoftBank Robotics chief strategy officer Steve Carlin, who showed CES attendees how the company’s Pepper robot could offer retail customers personalized attention, said the technology could also be used in hotels where an automated system could deliver a customized experience to a regular client.
“They should be able to say ‘Welcome back, you don’t need to stand in line, we’ve already checked you in and we’ve sent the key to your phone,’” Carlin said.
Carmakers at CES were showing how facial recognition could improve and personalize the travel experience through music, entertainment and other preferences.
Abe Chen of the Chinese-based auto startup Byton said its vehicle, set to launch later this year, would be able to make useful recommendations based on facial recognition.
“It knows who is in the car, how long you’ve been on the road and what you like to eat, so it could make a restaurant recommendation,” Chen told a CES presentation.
Richard Carriere of the Taiwan-based tech firm Cyberlink said the firm’s new facial recognition being shown at CES is “very precise” and is being offered for retail, home and law enforcement applications.
Carriere said retailers can customize ads on digital signs by using this technology — so a teenage girl might not see the same message as an elderly man.
“If someone walks into a store, based on gender or facial expression or age group we can customize what shows up in the signage,” he told AFP.
Other startups were integrating facial recognition into home doorbells or security systems, enabling family members and friends to gain entry while alerting homeowners about potentially suspicious people.
“This is one more element of autonomy in your intelligent home,” said Bill Hensley of the security firm Nortek, who showed how its new Elan system can easily let people in and then customize the home environment.
Chinese startup Tuya introduced its AI video doorbell using real-time facial recognition to identify family members, friends, couriers, property managers and even pets, and to create a “whitelist” of accepted people.
“You will be able to give people a one-time pass, and you can talk with them over a video connection,” said Tuya sales chief Sandy Scott of the device, which is to go on sale later this year.
Scott said the device could be used in assisted living homes to limit entries of unknown people, and also recognize if someone with dementia is wandering off. It stores data on the device to reduce risks of data leakage.
Other CES exhibitors including Procter & Gamble were demonstrating the use of facial recognition to enable customers to personalize skin care treatments.
Even as the uses for facial recognition grow, the technology remains controversial, especially regarding law enforcement building up databases.
Some critics worry about the accuracy of the technology and whether it means more kinds of surveillance and tracking.
Retailers and other firms “may already have every data point about me except my face,” Brenda Leong of the Future of Privacy Forum in Washington said.
“So you wonder, what is the value added?“
Equating the technology to online tracking, she said facial recognition means “your face as a cookie,” the tracking files used by online data collectors.
A Brookings Institution survey earlier this year found 50 percent of respondents opposed facial recognition software in retail stores to prevent theft, and 44 percent said using this software in airports to establish identity was unfavorable.
A different survey released this week by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation offered different results, finding just 26 percent want the government to strictly limit facial recognition, and 20 percent support limits on facial recognition if it would mean airports cannot use it to speed up security lines
“People are often suspicious of new technologies, but in this case, they seem to have warmed up to facial recognition technology quite quickly,” said Daniel Castro of ITIF.


Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

General view of a landscape of partially thawed Arctic permafrost near Mould Bay, Canada, in this handout photo released June 18, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

  • “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately”

LONDON: Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.
A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia.
“What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”
With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analizing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement.
Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.
The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks — waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.
Torn between professional excitement and foreboding, Romanovsky said the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.
“It’s a canary in the coalmine,” said Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study. “It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next.”
Scientists are concerned about the stability of permafrost because of the risk that rapid thawing could release vast quantities of heat-trapping gases, unleashing a feedback loop that would in turn fuel even faster temperature rises.
Even if current commitments to cut emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement are implemented, the world is still far from averting the risk that these kinds of feedback loops will trigger runaway warming, according to models used by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With scientists warning that sharply higher temperatures would devastate the global south and threaten the viability of industrial civilization in the northern hemisphere, campaigners said the new paper reinforced the imperative to cut emissions.
“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately.”