How facial recognition technology is transforming all aspects of our lives

For many of us it will evoke memories of Hollywood sci-fi movies, it was utterly fascinating but felt light-years away when depicted in films such as Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. Now, with original research dating back to the 1960s, facial recognition software is being touted as the next big trend in technology, and an extremely profitable business for those involved.

The singular reason for this? It’s not tied to any one industry. It can be utilised across a number of different sectors, varying from retail to government security.

Facial recognition is a type of biometric technology – a measurable way of identifying an individual. Features such as eyes, ears, nose and mouth are pinpointed, with distances such as those between the eyes, are recorded. Many companies already use biometric measures – most commonly fingerprint and eye recognition. But with the advances being made, it is certain to quickly outgrow its counterparts.

Social networking giants such as Facebook are already using it. This was your probably your first experience of this new technology, without even realising it. Facebook’s initial steps into this area were through the photo tagging process. By taking characteristics of your profile picture and previously tagged photos, tags were automatically suggested for you and your friends.

One company taking this a step further, is the photo sharing company Waldo. Self-titled as a 'photo finding phenom', the Austin based start-up has been designed to essentially find photos of you and send them straight to your phone via a neat and easy-to-use app.  

Founded by CEOs Rodney Rice and Michael Beaudoin, both previously at HomeAdvisor, Rice explained to me that Waldo was born from a "personal frustration" of his. "I was not able to easily get the photos taken of me and my family by others. Every time my kids have been photographed at camps, school activities and even whilst on vacation, it was always either too difficult or impossible to get the photos." This is a sentiment that Rice and Beaudoin felt would resonate would others. 

Whilst at an event, party or attraction, with a professional photographer hired to take photos of you having a good time, Waldo wants you to put down your phone and relax. Consumers will be asked to text a selfie, along with the event’s hashtag, to a specified number. The professional photographer will then take photos, which will be uploaded to the Waldo cloud. The app, using a combination of facial recognition and GPS software will then scan the images in the cloud, and identify your face in its database. Any matches will then be sent to your phone, and you will be notified of their arrival. You are then able to purchase the proofs for a small cost.

Waldo’s technology isn’t only encouraging consumers to leave their phones at home; it’s also benefitting the professional photographers who work at these events. Essentially the app will operate as a marketplace, by which the photographers will be able to broaden their chances of selling on the high quality photos. "We are focussed on getting you offline photos which would otherwise die on an SD card or somewhere in the cloud" Rice points out.

In a world where we have become obsessed with photos, images of ourselves and others, Waldo appears to have arrived just at the right time. Others agree - as reported in the MIT Technology Review earlier this year, Waldo has raised $5 million in funding. Rice says he sees facial recognition on a "very steep curve of progression," and central to "taking the friction out of many activities in life". What he wants Waldo to deliver to consumers is for them to "stay more in the moment" – being given the opportunity to let technology take care of some modern life’s nuances.

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Alongside Facebook, facial software is clearly important to others in the technology world. At the beginning of 2016 it was reported that Apple had bought San Diego based start-up Emotient – makers of AI software that assess emotions by reading an individual’s facial expressions. Much speculation has occurred on what Apple plans to do with its new acquisition, whilst Snapchat’s multi-million pound pay out for another facial recognition start up, Looksery, sparked further interest.

But it’s not only the tech giants that have marked the future, and benefits, in this new technology. It’s now quickly developing in other industries, in a number of interesting ways.

For some companies, it’s already revolutionising their business, with the travel industry quick to jump in. Led by Dutch airline, KLM, an ongoing trial of a 'single passenger token' enabled by facial recognition at Aruba Airport in Venezuela, has been hailed as a foundation for a 'broader European preclearance program'.  'Happy Flow', the product of Vision-Box, launched in early 2015, is a people processing system, and is designed to improve the airport experience. So how does Happy Flow work? When a passenger checks in for their journey, their passport will be confirmed and an image of their face stored. This will then be used as a signifier at other checkpoints throughout the airport, meaning the passenger will not having to show any documents through the rest of their journey.

With London Gatwick having recently trialled human recognition systems to improve management of their passenger flow, this type of biometric is quickly becoming an effective tool for airlines and the companies that work with them.

With the rapid growth of technology and our ability to access information, the need for effective security for businesses is at an all time high, especially for banks. The USAA, a Texas based financial services company, recently made the news as one of the first American financial institutions to make biometrics the primary feature of the verification process for their banking app.

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Starting in January of last year, the USAA began collecting and storing their customers facial image and voice records. These would be needed for what is called 'multifactor authentication' – giving the capability to a device such as your mobile phone, and combining it with the patterns of your face, voice or fingerprint, to access your private information..

A self-professed attitude to forward thinking and utilising new technologies has worked in their favour. It has been reported that a million customers have signed up to the USAA’s biometric-led system for its mobile phone app.

New technologies are able to help create advantages for us – and for facial recognition, its ability to work across different industries makes it very appealing. Its value becomes quite obvious when you think of how wide-reaching it can be. It will be interesting to see in what way it will develop next – it’s already quite astonishing how far we have come.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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