SQLI: Facing the digital future

Just a few months ago, consumers were thrilled to be able to get their groceries delivered within 10 minutes in select cities, thanks to grocery apps like Gorillas. Around the same time, Amazon was among a number of brick-and-mortar, pay-for-free stores with AI technology.

Now the latest technology being tested – this time by our supermarkets – is facial recognition software for age verification. It is so accurate that it can tell a buyer’s age to within a few years.

Facial recognition and similar technologies have long been championed as the ultimate game changer by the digital industry to speed up identification and payment processes, in particular. For SQLI UK CEO Jonty Sutton, it is always difficult to find the right balance between convenience and privacy for its long-term implementation.

He said: “Finding out that supermarkets are testing this kind of technology is not surprising. Convenience and personalization are at the heart of almost everything happening in digital commerce today.

“Before the pandemic, brands were happy to regularly make small changes to their online and offline business models.

“Now digital has seen such a surge in demand, there’s a much bigger appetite to make wholesale changes or try out different technologies that can make things even faster, easier and cheaper.

“However, as with anything data-driven or involving facial verification technology, there are always concerns around privacy and security and that’s the balance digital retailers need to strike properly.”

Face to face with the future

Facial recognition uses biometric software to recognize, identify and authenticate a person, by comparing and analyzing data and patterns based on the contours of their face.

The facial recognition market as a whole was worth $3.72 billion in 2020, but is expected to be worth $11.62 billionby 2026, with Asia recognized as the fastest growing region in the world.

Already used in areas such as police and customs, the pandemic has seen companies and authorities update their facial recognition algorithms to accommodate new variables, including face masks, which has reduced the error rates considerably.

Retail brands in China, in particular, are also following suit in embracing the technology. Jack & Jones and Vero Moda have opened smart stores in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, where customers complete an in-store facial recognition process to become a member of the AI ​​Club powered by WeChat Pay. From then on, they can pay using their face, with personalized recommendations sent to them digitally to try out virtually, it’s all part of the futuristic service.

Jonty continued, “The technology just keeps getting better. Tests by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology found that facial recognition systems were 20 times more effective at finding a match in a database of 12 million portrait photos, between 2014 and 2018. The failure rate is now very low.”

Verification of the digital age: what is the essay about?

Although separate from facial recognition software, ASDA, the Co-op, Tesco, Aldi and Morrisons have all signed up to a government program to test age estimation technology that can accurately verify the age of customers when they walk in. is about buying alcohol.

Interested retailers submitted proposals last year, with the five participating supermarkets now nominated by the Home Office.

Select stores have already started piloting the technology, which allows AI-powered self-checking cameras to assess whether a shopper is over 25.

The pilot is the result of a “regulatory sandbox”, allowing companies to test new approaches in real-world situations without some of the usual rules applying. The government and retailers believe it could help reduce the time and need to show physical ID and the run-ins with young shoppers – and get customers through self-service checkouts faster.

How it works

The digital identity platform implemented during the program is from Yoti – which claims to have developed the most accurate age estimation technology in the world.

Distinct from facial recognition technology and already used by the NHS in a variety of settings, its AI-powered algorithms verify the age of faces with an average accuracy of 2.2 years, rising to a year and a half for 16 to 20 years. .

The technology is embedded in self-service terminals, taking photos of consenting customers’ faces to be analyzed, processed – and then deleted. During the pilot project, supervisors will also verify the age of participants.

The challenges – and the future

As with many new technologies, the implementation of facial recognition technology and similar technologies is being pushed back. For some, the intrusion into their privacy is too great a price to pay for convenience.

Hardly a day goes by without a company being accused of using or selling data it has collected on customers it shouldn’t have. The pandemic has also raised huge concerns around the world about whether we should need to scan health cards to enter places and stores: how would those same people feel if they had to go through a facial scanner to enter instead?

For Jonty, there is still a lot of work to be done on data storage and security for facial recognition to become a must.

He added: “The technology used is breathtaking. Not only do the brands already know a lot about you, but they also prevail in the physical space. It will be scientifically determined what will be sold in this store at any given time. .

“Shopping experiences will become more streamlined and connected than they are now. Online and offline will become even more seamless. anyone. That’s smart on its own, but brands will also soon be able to watch you in the store – what are you looking at, what are your hotspots? Am I looking at other products but not taking them? They will be gathering all of this information and data and targeting your online accounts with these recommendations.

“Data is key. But the problems are, are we ready to have more cameras in stores and everywhere we go? Are we ready to be bombarded with personalized suggestions all the time? What happens to all the data Who is it shared with?

“There’s also the added issue that many brands carry around the ‘human’ touch. We wouldn’t want to lose that completely.

“I don’t think we’re quite ready to have cameras and tech shoved in our faces everywhere we go. It’s going to have to be subtle and gradual, but I have no doubt that’s where we’re heading under one form or another and when all the creases are ironed out, it will be good for the business and the customer in the long run.”

The age verification technology is currently being rolled out in select UK supermarkets, with trials ending in May.

About Roberto Frank

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