Facial-recognition system can guess your age

System for advertisers shown at Gartner Symposium

ORLANDO -- Those advertising in public places would really like to know the age and gender of those viewing their ads to see if they’re hitting the right demographic. An experimental facial-recognition system developed by NEC does a pretty good job of delivering just that information.

ORLANDO -- Those advertising in public places would really like to know the age and gender of those viewing their ads to see if they're hitting the right demographic. An experimental facial-recognition system developed by NEC does a pretty good job of delivering just that information.

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The NEC Next Generation Digital Signage Solution, on display on the exhibit floor at the Gartner Symposium ITExpo this week, is a facial-recognition system with a camera that watches individuals, zeroing in on their faces to instantly determine age and gender.

It doesn't store the image of a person, but does gather age and gender data. The goal, says Takeshi Yamamoto, vice president of strategic alliances in the NEC IT Solutions Group, is to be able to give advertisers in public venues, such as airports or shopping places, what they really crave to know.

"Companies running digital ads have no idea of what people are around it, you'd have to have someone there physically counting them today," Yamamoto says. The NEC facial-recognition system focuses in on passers-by, guessing age and gender with surprising accuracy. Age might be expressed as falling within a 10-year range, for example (and in the case of this reporter, it was accurate, though it missed the mark by a couple of years of another passer-by checking it out).

According to an NEC engineer, the longer you stay in front of the camera, the more accurate it gets, and you can see the data about you floating above the image of your head like a virtual halo.

Photo of NEC's facial recognition system

Yamamoto says the age/gender data about those viewing advertising could be stored and retrieved later or sent electronically, adding the NEC facial-recognition is being tested in Japan by Fuji TV.

The prospect of a small camera recording the age and gender of passers-by may raise privacy concerns in some quarters, but NEC does not view that as an obstacle to practical use of its facial-recognition system. There are already cameras in public venues such as supermarkets, airports and retail stores today, Yamamoto points out, adding that besides, Google and Amazon collect a tremendous amount of background data for marketing purposes Yamamoto notes NEC is not storing any of the images captured through the digital advertising system since that would violate legal and privacy rules.

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