Facial Recognition to Spark Lively Debate in 2019

R. Bhattacharyya

Summary Bullets:

• Companies specializing in facial recognition raised sizable amounts of capital from investors in 2018.

• In the coming year, facial recognition will yield new use cases, but will also bring new ethical concerns to the forefront.

Facial recognition is a hot topic. During 2018, several companies active in image recognition, and specifically facial recognition, raised sizable amounts of capital. China-based Sensetime raised an additional $1 billion in September of 2018, bringing the company’s total funding to $2.6 billion. After its Series D funding in July 2018, Megvii’s Face++ had raised a total of $607 million.

During 2019, investment in companies pursing visual recognition and developing new applications for the technology will likely accelerate. Given recent trends, there is a strong possibility that much of this new funding will be flowing into China, which has been very public about its aspirations to lead the global AI arena.

Despite the attention the technology is receiving, not all of it has been positive. Facial recognition is likely to be the next hot issue in the ethics and AI debate. Amazon has been in the hot seat for selling its Rekognition technology to governmental organizations, and Google recently revealed it will not be offering general purpose facial recognition before further evaluating technology and policy concerns.

The use of biometrics for security isn’t a new concept, but the ability to recognize faces, or to interpret emotions from faces, holds the potential to bring to market new, less conventional, and possibly, less palatable (for some) applications. The use of facial recognition in law enforcement to locate someone, in business to gauge engagement of meeting attendees, in the transportation industry to monitor the alertness of drivers as part of fleet management, or in education to monitor student attentiveness is likely to generate lively conversation in the workplace. Is it too invasive? What if people express similar emotions in different ways? What if it’s wrong – will subjects be unfairly penalized?

Although the market has a long way to go before applications such as these become mainstream, 2019 will see an uptick in activity in the space, with vendors suggesting new use cases for the technology and civil liberties groups questioning its use.


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