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.


WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

Updated 12 March 2019
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WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

  • Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN as a software engineer when he invented the hypertext-transfer protocol
  • He hopes countries can make the web available to more citizens

GENEVA: The inventor of the World Wide Web knows his revolutionary innovation is coming of age, and doesn’t always like what he sees: state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, hate speech and misinformation among the ills of its “digital adolescence.”
Tim Berners-Lee issued a cri-de-coeur letter and spoke to a few reporters Monday on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of his first paper with an outline of what would become the web — a first step toward transforming countless lives and the global economy.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, plans to host Berners-Lee and other web aficionados on Tuesday. “We’re celebrating, but we’re also very concerned,” Berners-Lee said.
Late last year, a key threshold was crossed — roughly half the world has gotten online. Today some 2 billion websites exist.
The anniversary offers “an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go,” Berners-Lee said, calling the “fight” for the web “one of the most important causes of our time.”
He is convinced the online population will continue to grow, but says accessibility issues continue to beset much of the world.
“Look at the 50 percent who are on the web, and it’s not so pretty for them,” he said. “They are all stepping back suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections realizing that this web thing that they thought was so cool has actually not necessarily been serving humanity very well.”
The anniversary is also a nod to the innovative, collaborative and open-source mindset at the Geneva-based CERN, where physicists smash particles together to unlock secrets of science and the universe.
As a young English software engineer, Berners-Lee came up with the idea for hypertext-transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the web while working at CERN in March 1989. Some trace the actual start of the web to 1990, when he released the first web browser.
Berners-Lee reminisced about how he was really out to get disparate computer systems to talk to one another, and resolve the “burning frustration” over a “lack of interoperability” of documentation from disparate computing systems used at CERN in the late 1980s.
Now, the hope of his World Wide Web Foundation is to enlist governments, companies, and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”
Under the contract’s sweeping, broad ambition, governments are supposed to make sure everyone can connect to the Internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the Internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things.
To Berners-Lee, the web is a “mirror of humanity” where “you will see good and bad.”
“The Contract for the Web recognizes that whether humanity, in fact, is constructive or not actually depends on the way you write the code of the social network,” he said.
Some tough regulation may be necessary in some places, in others not, Berners-Lee said.
On one issue, he’s insistent: “Net neutrality — strong regulation,” Berners-Lee said, hammering a fist on the table. He was alluding to a principle that anyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to video, music, email, photos, social networks, maps and other online material.
Berners-Lee said the web has created opportunity, made lives easier and given the marginalized a voice, but “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”
Ultimately, his “Contract” proposal is not about “quick fixes,” but a process for shifting people’s relationship with the online world, he said.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future,” he wrote.