Facial recognition technology is one of the most controversial developments in recent years. It’s regularly justified as a means to help identify and capture criminals but has also been flagged as potentially encroaching on civil rights if misused. Reports that authorities in China are deploying the technology as part of a crackdown on ethnic minorities in certain regions have led to fears of a future ‘Big Brother’ society in large part enabled by facial recognition.
However, there are also uses of the technology that are much more appealing. One is in making passport and security checks in airports much more efficient and less time consuming. Testing of the technology is already underway in some airports in Europe and North America and could systems that are based on it are likely to become the norm within several years. And one bar in London has also started using facial recognition technology to neutralise the age-old frustration of disorderly bar queues.
Especially, but not only, at peak times, bar staff have trouble keeping track of who is first in line to be served at crowded bars. While some bar staff make more of an effort than others to keep an eye on who should be served first, most of us will have experience of the scenario descending to ‘law of the jungle’ levels. The pushiest, best looking or most familiar to the bar staff often manage to get served quickly, leaving the more reserved, polite clientele frustrated as they are overlooked time and again.
Queue jumpers will be a thing of the past at 5cc Harrild & Sons in Farringdon, which has installed a facial recognition system provided by tech company Datasparq. The system uses cameras to identify each new customer that approaches the bar. They are then assigned a number that appears on a screen above the bar visible to both staff and punters. A little like a high tech version of the ticketing system sometimes used to manage queues in waiting rooms. An estimated waiting time is also provided.
An additional benefit to the system is that AI also decides if a customer’s features suggest they could be under the age of 25. In this case they are asked to ready ID and if they have already done so, the system remembers their face so they won’t be asked again on the next trip to the bar if served by a different member of staff. The efficiency of the system is also expected to speed up average serve times.
Privacy concerns are allayed by the provision of a section of the bar those who don’t want to be the subject of the facial recognition technology can use. However, Datasparq guarantees that all data held locally in a bar is erased at the end of the night. Any images sent to cloud facilities for facial recognition processing are also quickly deleted.
Datasparq is currently in negotiations with a number of pub chains and expects to see its system used in hundreds of bars across the UK by next year. With a recent YouGov poll finding only 44% of Brits say they would protest if someone was served ahead of them at a bar, dropping to just 11% for 18-24 year olds, it sounds like polite bar-goers could do with the helping hand of the new technology to keep order.