Facial recognition technology benefits: much more than unlocking smartphones

Last updated: 02 December 2019

Thanks to developments in camera technology, mapping processes, and processing speeds, facial recognition has rapidly become an integral part of the authentication processes for a variety of hardware. The technology has garnered widespread awareness in the last 12 months as several of the latest wave of smartphones have built in facial recognition as a phone unlocking mechanism. The benefits of facial recognition here are obvious including reducing identity fraud and increasing convenience. But while using facial recognition as a method of authentication is what the technology is most well-known for, it also has the potential to drive advances in a variety of other unexpected ways, some of which we explore below.


The conservation industry has recently started using the same software that recognises you in a friend’s social media post as part of their effort to tackle the illegal trade in chimpanzees and other animals. In this case a chimp, who lives in the wild, is photographed from various angles. Its face is then registered in a database by having a box is drawn around a series of images, which are then grouped together. In conjunction with this an algorithm searches through photo posts on social media looking for the faces of apes from the database. If the technology recognizes a trafficked animal, the owners of the accounts featuring the chimp can then be targeted by the authorities. With baby chimps selling on the black market for around $12,500, the number of criminals involved in this form of smuggling is huge. In fact, around 2000 chimps are lost from the wild every year as a result of the trade.

This concept has also been used with other endangered animals, such as the red-bellied lemur, where a pattern recognition software, called LemurFaceID, made it easier for researchers studying lemur individuals and populations to determine how long individuals live in the wild, how frequently they reproduce, and ultimately population growth and decline. The software has been proven to be 97% accurate at identifying the Lemurs and many conservationists hope that as the technology continues to develop, they will be able to use it with other species to help protect them too.

Customer Loyalty

For retailers looking for new ways to transform irregular clients into repeat customers, facial recognition has a lot of untapped potential to remove friction from our shopping experience. By opting to allow some of your favorite stores to instantly recognize you when you enter to purchase goods, your preferences can be determined instantly. Imagine a scenario where at your regular coffee shop the barista starts making your order as soon as you walk through the door, and gives you personalized offers based on your order history. Do you like vanilla syrup in your morning latte? If so, the store would offer you half off all syrups – a reward that would be completely useless for someone else who prefers filter coffee.

In addition, one of the best ways to enhance loyalty is by offering a VIP service to customers when they enter a shop. For example, a shopper who wants their clothes to be vegan or made only from natural materials may enter a store and be unable to instantly locate where these products are available. However, if they allowed facial recognition to recognize them, a customer service professional could get an alert and become their personal shopper, increasing the likelihood of a purchase.

Finally, shops can gain customer loyalty by allowing them to skip the queue, making their overall shopping experience smoother. Facial recognition could allow customers who opt in to purchase goods and skip lines by using their face. One of the most recent examples that demonstrates how this technology might evolve to work using facial recognition can be seen by the use of a similar principle in Amazon Go stores. Here, technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. A little later, you are sent a receipt and charged to your Amazon account.



There are a variety of applications of facial recognition in many different spheres of healthcare, as virtually every process from diagnosis to treatment can be aided with this technology. AiCure has developed an app, for instance, that uses facial recognition to ensure that people are taking their medication as prescribed. The app identifies the patient and the prescribed drug before asking patients to film themselves taking the drug. The app then visually confirms it has been ingested. Physicians can then examine time stamp data to ensure all patients are keeping up with their treatments.

US researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute also successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose DiGeorge Syndrome, a condition present from birth that can cause a range of lifelong problems, including heart defects and learning difficulties. They mapped 126 individual features to ensure correct diagnoses 96.6% of the time.

Finally, mouthwash brand Listerine created a mobile app that uses facial recognition to help blind people know when someone is smiling at them. The app scans a face and then beeps and vibrates when it senses a smile.

As facial recognition is only just starting to take off in the world of biometrics, it is not surprising that it is receiving both praise and criticism on the ethics behind its use. While concerns centre on the use of this technology for surveillance and security, this should not override the fact that there are plenty of other positive use cases of the technology that can greatly improve and streamline not only our lives, but those of other living creatures on the planet too.

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