Charlette N’Guessan, a young engineer from Ghana, is the first woman to be awarded the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, an award founded and supported by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, for her work in developing a facial recognition algorithm trained to better identity African faces.
Facial Recognition technology has seen an explosive rise to prominence in recent years, and particularly these past several months due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus which has lead to an increased demand for contactless and remote biometric authentication solutions.
Racial and gender bias is a major problem point for facial recognition technology that stems from a lack of diversity in the datasets many algorithms are trained upon. This lack of diversity has led to many facial recognition solutions maintaining accuracy when identifying people of color and women.
“The more you train your model, the more your model is able to identify more faces,” N’Guessan said in an interview with CNET. “We’re happy that our system is able to give a high level of accuracy.”
A December 2019 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) revealed that people of color and women were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by many facial recognition algorithms than white men. This is a problem that is growing in its severity as the technology becomes more common in today’s society, especially with its increasing (albeit highly controversial) use by many law enforcement agencies around the world.
“It is essential to have technologies like facial recognition based on African communities, and we are confident their innovative technology will have far reaching benefits for the continent,” said Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize judge and Cameroonian entrepreneur, in a statement.
N’Guessan’s company, BAPE API, uses a combination of facial recognition and artificial intelligence to authenticate an individual’s identity remotely, via short video clips or live video feeds, and can tell the difference between a real person or a photograph.
The award comes with a $32,000 cash prize, which N’Guessan says will be reinvested into her project.
“I really want to invest the prize’s financial support in the development part, hire more people, continue small,” she said. “If we have more talent … we can go far, so we are really open for collaboration.”
September 9, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis