How Moscow got the world’s best face recognition system

How Moscow got the world's best face recognition system

Moscow authorities in January launched the world’s largest online face recognition system. The municipality acquired the technology from the Russian company NtechLab. Until now, NtechLab was known as the developer of the application for searching people on VKontakte using the photo.

In January, in Moscow, without much publicity, they launched one of the most advanced face recognition systems in the world, which covers several tens of thousands of cameras installed in the city.

The Russian company NtechLab, known for its FindFace mobile application, became the developer of a new technology for recognizing faces in a video stream. NtechLab’s face recognition technology, as some media wrote, could “put an end to anonymity in society.” FindFace was launched in the mid-2010s. It helped to find a person from a photograph on the VKontakte social network using photography.

Subsequently, NtechLab developers removed FindFace from all mobile app stores and began developing technologies for processing information from surveillance cameras in collaboration with government agencies. This week it became known that the Moscow City Hall paid NtechLab at least $ 3.2 million for using its face recognition technology in the city’s video surveillance system.

In an interview with Forbes USA, NtechLab CEO Alexander Minin said that this is the largest real-time face recognition project in the world, even though for the most part the technology is not used online. With its help, you can find a person in a crowd in real time and at the same second compare it with photographs of people from the police databases of wanted criminals. London police are now testing a similar system in collaboration with the Japanese company NEC. New technologies made it possible to significantly speed up the work – before all the materials from the surveillance cameras were stored in a separate video archive and the police had to run each video through a special face recognition system to find a match.

Many remain concerned about the implications of introducing such technology into the urban video surveillance system. First of all, a possible violation of privacy in connection with the continuous search for persons in the video stream in real time. Given the low level of observance of human rights in Russia, some people are afraid of the beginning of the total surveillance described in the dystopia of George Orwell “1984”. Last year, Russian activist for women’s rights, Alena Popova, filed a lawsuit against Moscow City Hall. She argued that introducing a citywide face recognition system would violate people’s rights to privacy. However, her lawsuit was soon rejected.

Nevertheless, Minin is proud of his work and is glad that a new face recognition system has been launched in Moscow. He says NtechLab has been working on the project for two years. “Our system is connected to hundreds of thousands of cameras and works in real time,” says Minin. According to him, NtechLab differs from most similar facial recognition systems in that it uses special neural networks to match images and does not need to be trained in facial databases. This allows you to reduce the chances that the face recognition system will show bias on a national basis, for which developers of other technologies were criticized, Minin notes

Will NTechLab Technologies Be Used in the USA? This is entirely possible given the fact that US government organizations praised Russian technology. The NTechLab system was recognized as the best in the framework of testing face recognition technologies, which was conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the USA. Although there are some concerns about how secure US government cooperation with Russian companies is, NTechLab management has partnered with Genetec, a provider of video surveillance systems, which previously received several government contracts from the US government.

In the US market, NTechLab will have to compete with many technology startups, including ClearView, whose investor is billionaire Peter Thiel. The New York Times recently published an investigation, saying that ClearView’s face recognition system uses images from social networks like Facebook and Twitter to help police match photos of wanted people from huge US law enforcement databases. Despite the fact that the FindFace application previously used a similar principle, Alexander Minin doubts the prospects of using this strategy. “ClearView spoils the reputation of face recognition systems,” says NTechLab CEO.

NtechLab is also working on high-tech glasses for police officers. It is assumed that police officers will be able to wear them while patrolling city streets, and glasses will warn them about the approach of people on the wanted list. According to The New York Times, ClearView has also begun work on a similar technology. But NtechLab, at least, has already developed a prototype of such glasses. However, they will not yet become part of Moscow’s huge facial recognition system. “So far, this is not a question. We have the technical ability to create such glasses. Prototypes are still being tested, ”said Nikolai Grunin, PR Director for NtechLab.

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