Imagine when you walk into work in the morning, rather than swipe a key card, facial recognition software instantly identifies you and unlocks the door. Or, if instead of making a purchase with your credit card or smartphone, you simply pay with your face.
That innovation isn’t so far off, and is among the "10 Breakthrough Technologies" for 2017 recently featured on an annual list by MIT Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Facial recognition software isn’t new, but its increasing level of accuracy is beginning to open up the possibilities for a wider audience, and a more practical use. That’s thanks in part to developments and advancements in artificial intelligence.
The new technology, which the magazine dubbed “pay with your face,” is now being tested and further developed in China. Multiple companies there are working on facial recognition abilities, including Baidu, the firm that runs the country’s most popular search engine.
The idea of a face scan being so accurate it can substitute for tickets or credit cards is still in the early stages of development, said Brian Bergstein, the magazine’s editor-at-large. “But it’s very sci-fi," he said. "It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like the future is coming quickly."
In China, Baidu’s research shows that their software rivals most humans in its ability to recognize a face, wrote Will Knight in the MIT Technology Review article. “Now Baidu is developing a system that lets people pick up rail tickets by showing their face.”
The technology is so sophisticated — and may be so intrusive — that consumers in the U.S. could be skeptical about adopting it, Bergstein said.
“In China, there are incredible amounts of surveillance cameras,” he said. Pay with your face technology is “layering convenience applications over the surveillance state."
"I don’t know how much acceptance that would have here, and maybe it’s a technology we should be uncomfortable with,” he added.
The MIT Technology Review highlights the world’s top emerging technologies annually.
Some of the other breakthroughs identified include self-driving trucks, computers that can learn on their own and implants in the brain that could help a paralyzed person walk again.
“These are going to shape the kinds of companies that get formed and the ideas that get funded,” Bergstein said.