Can we avoid the embarrassment of poor customer experience ratings or dismal business results—by saving faces for AI analytics?

Facial recognition (FR) is a powerful security feature, but while the development of this technology brings unprecedented opportunities, it also gives rise to challenges.

Despite concerns in Europe and across the globe on potential infringement of data privacy rights, technology vendors and governments around the world still recognize the potential of FR and are looking at ways for the technology to be implemented in a responsible manner. For instance, Microsoft came up with six principles that will guide the company’s facial recognition work, and governments and society have recommended them as a framework to consider.

Singapore is a local case in point. Following regulatory guidelines such as the National AI Strategy, Model AI Governance Framework and Trusted Data Sharing Framework, organizations have a flexible and safe testbed for innovation. These regulatory frameworks are a step in the right direction towards the pursuit of a tech-enabled future. That said, with data power comes data responsibility— businesses and organizations will need to ensure that they adhere to data privacy laws and ethics when they deal with consumers’ data.

Whether FR is use in unlocking our phones or easing our way through airport security checks, it can bring enhanced safety and security, automation and increased convenience. Beyond these applications, the technology is reshaping numerous industries by bringing convenience into many aspects of industrial processes as well as presenting smart insights that further augment human capabilities.

FR applications prove that convenience is king—businesses can identify and re-recognize customers instantly without the need to verify identities and credentials at every interaction. Such capabilities have only become possible through the advancement of AI technologies, FR systems and data analytics.

In Singapore alone, FR is making its mark beyond just security applications—prime examples can be found in the retail and transport sectors.

Retail industry

Retail is a key industry for Singapore, and it underpins the growth of the tourism industry. In 2019, it contributed to approximately S$3.6 billion of the nation’s GDP. New avenues of retail and distribution, such as e-commerce, have come up over the last decade, challenging brick-and-mortar retailers to stay competitive as a result.

Today, shoppers do not want to spend their time on cumbersome processes such as paperwork at a car dealership, before they get their product. Chinese electric-car maker Byton has already implemented an opt-in facial recognition system that will aid in pulling out a customer’s order, selected options, and any other concerns about driving or charging an electric vehicle, as soon as they step into the dealership. Having such information at the fingertips of sales representatives offers speedy and tailored services, improving efficiency and the overall retail experience for their customers.

To meet these expectations, retailers are stepping up their use of FR technologies that recognize their customers visually to help with self-checkout and automatic payment authentication, or even identify them for loyalty program rewards. Going one step further, these technologies can also help retailers provide the best service to customers by evaluating customers’ moods and facial expressions, thus assisting businesses to determine whether shoppers are happy with their products, or if they need assistance or will benefit from personalized marketing deals.

At the consumer end, FR technologies coupled with analytics open an avenue for a seamless and experiential shopping experience—be it through intelligent product recommendations with high-tech smart mirrors that can detect age, gender or emotions—or through e-payment, eliminating the need to wait in line for a cashier.

The retail experience does not end there, though. Out on the parking lot, attempting to find your car amidst thousands of others is never a process one looks forward to. These days, malls are utilizing technologies like FR in carparks—identifying and recognizing car registration plate numbers instead of faces. Shoppers are now provided with assistance technologies—such as Singapore’s Changi Airport’s Video-based Parking Guidance System—which can identify and locate exactly where their cars are parked, providing them with a seamless experience from start to end.

Furthermore, the Funan mall in Singapore features an app where visitors can reserve their parking lots and obtain guidance to their reserved lots by the mall’s video-based smart car-parking facility.

Transportation industry

The use of FR in the public transport sector has seen increased integration in recent years, partly because of advancements in AI that have expanded into different applications in the sector. Beyond ensuring public safety, these developments have also led to improvements in travel experiences for passengers as well as the streamlined work processes for staff.

By recognizing individual faces or even suspicious packages, FR gives law enforcement agencies an edge in thwarting potential sinister activities or even preventing passengers from hurting themselves, through the early detection of any potential rash acts within public transportation hubs such as train stations or the airport.

Apart from ensuring passenger safety, FR technologies can revolutionize the commuter experience. Imagine arriving at the MRT gantry, realizing that you have forgotten your fare card or finding yourself causing a hold-up during peak periods due to misplaced payment  card at the car park exit.

Most of us can relate to this, but with the arrival of 5G, we may soon be able to pay fares with our faces. Subway operators in Shenzhen, China have already begun trials on 5G-backed FR ticketing systems that only require commuters to scan their faces at the entrance gate to have their fares deducted from linked accounts.

FR technologies are also making strides in Changi Airport Terminal 4, featuring Iris and FR scanners for identity verification during immigration clearance, without the need for passengers to present their passports. Not only is this quicker than the present passport-and-thumbprint system, it also minimizes physical contact which presents a safer option for high-risk situations such as pandemic outbreaks.

Airport staff also stand to benefit from the deployment of FR technologies—lost or late passengers can be easily located within the airport premises, whereby airport staff can then escort them to their respective boarding gates. The same technology can be implemented to locate lost or stolen luggage, or identify handicapped or elderly patients who may require special assistance.

What’s next?

It is exponentially crucial for businesses and industries to keep abreast of technological trends and disruptions that require technology to augment human capabilities. These technological solutions will enable professionals to do more qualitative, value-added work, thus maximizing productivity and job satisfaction.

Decision-makers should take the first step of researching the potential benefits that these solutions can bring to their business, and how such tech can be integrated into their infrastructure. This may mean investing in video management systems that can integrate and utilize technologies ranging from FR, analytics and more. All the pre-emptive effort will go a long way towards future-proofing businesses and adapting to the changing landscape. Otherwise, they may find themselves stretched thin when faced with demanding consumer expectations and falling revenues.