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How AI, facial recognition tech is revolutionising security in Asia

According to a recent report, with the advent and proliferated use of high-definition video surveillance cameras, facial recognition and remote sensors feeding tonnes of data into artificial intelligence algorithms to analyse in real time, technology, the need for human security personnel have severely decreased.

Like other sectors buffeted by the winds of technological change, the concept of physical security is also being redefined by the new tools being used to ensure safety and deter crime.

Started in 1958 one Singaporean security company became a statutory board in the island state’s private armed security industry, before incorporating in June 2005 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings. The outfit recorded S$1.2 billion (US$887 million) in its 2018 financial year, crossing the billion-dollar mark for the first time.

The firm has grown its presence in the Greater China region in recent years to about 3,000 employees today, rising from under 1,500 in 2017. To spearhead its expansion, the company earlier this month appointed former Hong Kong Commissioner of Police as its regional chairman.

The technology centre of the firm is located in a quiet industrial neighbourhood in Singapore. The facility is equipped with the latest security technology and is home to a command centre that oversees security at some of its corporate customers, including a number of major shopping malls.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is now smart enough to detect if a person is acting out of the ordinary and flag these “exceptions” to the central command centre, where human operators can decide on the course of action.

For low-level actions like a smoke detector being activated, AI can automatically tell personnel on the ground to check and report. Depending on the level of sophistication, high-definition cameras with thermal imaging can determine whether there is a fire, negating the need for human officers to visit the site and cutting down response time.

Ground sensors along perimeter fences mean that there is no need for human patrols because any movement would trigger an alert. The use of analytics also frees up the human operator from having to constantly monitor banks of screens and dealing with cases flagged up by the software.

It was noted that the shift to digital video was like “a breath of fresh air”, combined with the ubiquity of surveillance cameras, fundamentally changed the direction of security.

Nevertheless, there is growing debate around the limits of surveillance and the trade-offs between security and privacy. In China, for example, facial recognition is now being used not just for access control at border checkpoints, but to take attendance in classrooms. The technology, which builds a digital map of a face using different contour points, is also being deployed at US airports.

Asked if he foresees a pushback against surveillance, chief executive the firm noted that currently, people appear to have a certain level of trust that the information gathered is being used for noble purposes, to protect people.

The chief executive likened the use of advanced surveillance system to anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing laws putting an effective end to banking secrecy. The global move to clamp down on illicit money flows, with the aim to cut funding to terrorist organisations, has led to social good, even though one might argue governments now know how much money one has or is moving around, he said.

A similar argument could be made for the still-developing debate on privacy.

However, the moves currently being made in the field of security are in line with Hong Kong’s (and other Asian countries’) aims to decrease the rate of crime.

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