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Face recognition security coming to SA airports

With new biometric security landing at Cape Town next month, Thierry Mesnard of Gemalto separates fact from fiction.

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Myth: Airlines will keep passengers’ identities and facial data on-file.

In this age of increasingly frequent data breaches, airlines don’t want to store any more personally identifiable information (PII) than they absolutely have to, lest they incur additional IT burden, expenses and liability.

In the example given above, when you visit the United States, the CPB captures your facial image on arrival as part of admitting you into the country. These images are then used to compare to your face when you depart.

Myth: Facial recognition replaces current security measures.

Facial recognition doesn’t mean secure documents will disappear. Digital passports, traditional IDs and even those stored on mobile devices will still be heavily involved in the traveller verification process. Longstanding airport security like manual inspections of physical identity and travel documents will remain in place for a long time to come. What will likely be phased out are boarding passes, but those had little security value or true verification mechanisms behind them anyway – they’re mostly symbolic tokens for logistics.

Myth: Facial recognition is the precursor to a Big Brother scenario inside airports and beyond.

With facial recognition for travel purposes, it’s worth noting the distinct difference between surveillance – constantly scanning a crowd for identification – and the use cases for verification at check-in or boarding currently being proposed and piloted in some countries around the world. In the latter, it’s a 1:1:1 closed loop match in that the live face presented need only match the digital face image on the passport and the reference image associated with the flight manifest. No data is stored away, no additional data is gathered, no further matching is executed and nothing leaves the transaction. This is likely to emerge as best practice, and will thus likely be applied when this technology arrives in South Africa.

The use of facial recognition for identification would be something that the police or security services would undertake and would thus be governed by the relevant laws.

Myth: The technology isn’t currently reliable enough to be trusted.

Technology matures rapidly in the modern era. Facial recognition is already standard in the Microsoft Windows operating system and on some models of iPhones; consumers can see for themselves how well these applications work. The technology being introduced in airports is just as good.

There are limitations, of course, including the necessity for good lighting, but that would apply even to a human agent: people don’t see in the dark, either. It is because of limitations like this that a human expert constantly backs up facial recognition for now.

And there’s an advantage that the technology confers, too. Facial recognition in its current state also isn’t subject to nearly the same conscious or unconscious biases that inherently skew human judgement. In that way, it’s already a step up.

Couple that with the fact that facial recognition has been fine-tuned in more controlled scenarios and put through rigorous real-world field tests. Even better, recent and coming developments in AI and machine learning will only advance facial recognition’s capabilities and increase levels of accuracy.

If facial recognition and its potential benefits for air travel are going to get a fair shake, we must work from a verifiable, consistent set of facts rather than being distracted by fiction, distortions and conspiracy theories. After all, the purpose of the technology is safer, easier and more convenient travel. And that benefits us all.


[1] Ondela Mlandu, “SA airports to get new time-saving biometric system”, Getaway (3 December 2018), available at https://www.getaway.co.za/travel-news/airports-to-get-new-time-saving-biometric-system/.

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Samsung clears the table with new monitor

For those who like minimalism and tidy desks, Samsung’s new Space Monitor may just do the trick, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The latest trends of narrow-bezels and minimalist designs have transcended smartphones, spilling into other designs, like laptops and monitors. 

The new Space Monitor line by Samsung follows in this new design “tradition”. The company has moved the monitor off the desk – by clipping it onto the edge of the desk.

It can be put into three configurations: completely upright, where it sits a bit high but completely off the desk; half-way to the desk, where it is a bit lower to put some papers or files underneath the display; and flat on the desk, where it is at its lowest.

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The monitor sits on a weighted hinge at the edge of the desk, providing sturdy adjustment to its various height configurations. It also swivels on a hinge at the point where the arm connects to the display. This provides precise viewing angle adjustment, which is great for showing something on screen to someone who is standing.

Apart from form factor, there are some neat goodies packed into the box. It comes with a two-pin power adapter, with no adapter box on the midpoint between the plug and the monitor, and a single cable that carries HDMI-Y and power to prevent tangling. 

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However, it’s slightly disappointing that there isn’t a Mini Display Port and power cable “in one cable” option for Mac and newer graphics card users, who will have to run two cables down the back of the screen. Even worse, the display doesn’t have a USB Type-C display input; a missed opportunity to connect a Samsung device to the panel.

A redeeming point is the stunning, Samsung-quality panel, which features a 4K UHD resolution. The colours are sharp and the viewing angles are good. However, this display is missing something: Pantone or Adobe RGB colour certification, as well as IPS technology. 

The display’s response rate comes in at 4ms, slightly below average for displays in this price range. 

These negatives aside, this display has a very specific purpose. It’s for those who want to create desk space in a few seconds, while not having to rearrange the room. 

Final verdict: This display is not for gamers nor for graphic designers. It is for those who need big displays but frequently need to clear their desks.

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Can mobile fix education?

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By Ernst Wittmann, global account director for MEA and country manager for Southern Africa, at TCL Communications

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live and work, and it can be expected to rapidly change the ways in which children learn as smartphones and tablets become more widely accepted at primary and high schools. By putting a powerful computer in every learner’s schoolbag or pocket, smartphones could play an important role in improving educational outcomes in a country where so many schools are under-resourced.

Here are some ways that mobile technology will reshape education in the years to come:

Organisation and productivity

For many adults, the real benefit of a smartphone comes from simple applications like messaging, calendaring and email. The same goes for schoolchildren, many of whom will get the most value from basic apps like sending a WhatApp message to friends to check on the homework for the day, keeping track of their extramural calendar, or photographing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard or whiteboard. One study of young people’s mobile phone use in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa confirmed that many of them got the most value from using their phones to complete mundane tasks.

Interactivity

One of the major benefits smartphones can bring to the classroom is boosting learners’ engagement with educational materials through rich media and interactivity. For example, apps like Mathletics use gamification to get children excited about doing mathematics—they turn learning into a game, with rewards for practicing and hitting milestones. Or teachers can set up a simple poll using an app like Poll Everywhere to ask the children in a class what they think about a character’s motivation in their English set-work book.

Personalisation

Mobile technology opens the doors to more personalised and flexible ways to teach and learn, making more space for children to work in their own style and at their own pace. Not very child learns in the same way or excels at the same tasks and subjects – the benefit of mobile phones is that they can plug the gaps for children seeking extra enrichment or those that need some additional help with classroom work.

For example, teachers can provide recommended educational materials for children who are racing in ahead of their peers in some of their subjects. Or they can suggest relevant games for children who learn better through practical application of ideas than by listening to a teacher and taking notes. 

In future, we can expect to see teachers, perhaps aided by algorithms and artificial intelligence, make use of analytics to track how students engage with educational content on their mobile devices and use these insights to create more powerful learning experiences. 

Access

South Africa has a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics and science, which disproportionately affects learners in poor and rural areas. According to a statement in 2017 from the Department of Basic Education, it has more than 5,000 underqualified or unqualified teachers working around the country. Though technology cannot substitute for a qualified teacher, it can supplement human teaching in remote or poor areas where teachers are not available or not qualified to teach certain subjects. Video learning and videoconferencing sessions offer the next best thing where a math or physical science teacher is not physically present in the classroom.

Information

Knowledge is power and the Internet is the world’s biggest repository of knowledge. Schoolchildren can access information and expertise about every subject under the sun from their smartphones – whether they are reading the news on a portal, watching documentaries on YouTube, downloading electronic books, using apps to improve their language skills, or simply Googling facts and figures for a school project.

Take a mobile-first approach

Technology has a powerful role to play in the South African school of the future, but there are some key success factors schools must bear in mind as they bring mobile devices into the classroom:

  • Use appropriate technology—in South Africa, that means taking a mobile-first approach and using the smartphones many children already know and use.
  • Thinking about challenges such as security – put in place the cyber and physical security needed to keep phones and data safe and secure.
  • Ensuring teachers and children alike are trained to make the most of the tech – teachers need to take an active role in curating content and guiding schoolchildren’s use of their devices. To get that right, they will need training and access to reliable tech support.

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