Physical Selves in the Digital Space: Biometric Recognition for Seamless Engagement

October 1, 2019

Physical Selves in the Digital Space: Biometric Recognition for Seamless Engagement

It seems like a contradiction, but the more digital the world becomes, the more physical our ways of identifying ourselves becomes too. Biometric recognition is a key technology to track because it exists at the interface between a user and a digital tool or product. Whether it’s used to grant access, or track an on-going experience, the relationship between our digital experiences and our physical selves is an interesting space at the moment. There is much discussion out there about biometrics and security, but in this blog post I want to rather look at the ways it is used to remove friction from different experiences, and the value this can bring to both businesses and users.

Faster Recognition. Less Friction.

Biometric recognition is key for business and service offerings because it removes the small hindrances that can often slow down and irritate users. The Fast Identity Online Alliance, an industry body made up of players like PayPal and Lenovo, found that one in three ecommerce transactions are abandoned simply because users weren’t able to remember their passwords and login to their accounts. This is frustrating enough to those individuals who then weren’t able to fulfil their purchases, but it is even more of an issue for businesses that are losing revenue due to an issue that could be easily solved with more seamless authentication.

One of the key ways biometric technology can be used to remove friction is to speed up processes where large numbers of individuals need to get verified against relatively simple criteria. Delta, the US-based airline has taken this approach in their key travel hubs, using facial recognition to speed up the boarding process. In their pilot phase they saw a nearly 10-minute saving in boarding times per flight, and nearly three-quarters of customers preferring the process to the traditional procedure. There have been concerns around surveillance, but as one commentator on Medium’s Startup Blog explained, facial recognition is actually the least of your worries when it comes to being monitored at the airport. Your information is being gathered in any case whenever you fly, and a system like this is just the public-facing expression of it.

Real World Recognition

The uses for biometric recognition don’t stop with simply identifying and verifying individuals. One of the leading providers of facial recognition technology disclosed to NY Mag that retail clients accounted for nearly half of his company’s business. The technology has been used in this context for a few years now to identify known shoplifters, but in the future it will increasingly be used to promote sales and personalise the retail experience. CaliBurger, a restaurant in the US, for example, recognises known members of its loyalty program as they approach an ordering kiosk, activate their loyalty details and suggest meals based on their ordering history. Retail software giant SAP has also looked into technology in this space, developing prototype glasses that store associates can wear to identify known customers and pull up their details in advance to make the engagement process richer.

In a more futuristic take on this technology, one reason biometric recognition is important is that it actually verifies you as a human. In a world of deepfakes that can emulate real or imagined people, digital humans working as influencers and artificial intelligence that is able to talk to us in natural language, the ability to prove your status as a biological human will be important in the not so distant future. Wired posits that eventually this will be built into our identity documents, so that we can both show who we are and then are able to filter the content we receive from the world so that we can choose whether we want to engage with the real, the artificial or a mixture of both.

So Where to From Here?

The more sophisticated our ability becomes to accurately track biometric data, the more we are able to tailor experiences to the user. As I’ve discussed here, this is currently taking the form of recognising the individual and then using that information to access a profile of information that streamlines the engagement process. In future, however, this could move into more on the fly customisation – imagine a kiosk that could detect how sleepy you were and brew you a cup of coffee that was just strong enough to wake you up, or a streaming media offering that could detect your emotional state by scanning your face and then recommend just the series you need that evening to match it.

At Swipe iX, we see the potential in this technology increasingly around enhancing seamlessness. In our work this means identifying the right data points needed to craft a solution that will add real value to the engagement and then building the system to bring it to life. As this kind of technology is increasingly seen in consumer electronics, people become more comfortable with basic forms of identification. The leap from facial recognition in iPhones to something like a smart retail space isn’t that far at all and we are ready to help clients navigate it.

Hendri Lategan


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