Hong Kong innovators

Hong Kong research body develops facial and Chinese character recognition to help banking sector

Applied Science and Technology Research Institute hopes its breakthroughs can help enhance customer service and convert handwritten characters into a digital format

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 6:07pm

A government-funded research body in Hong Kong is moving forward with its development of facial and Chinese character recognition, hoping the two could soon be deployed in the city’s banking sector to improve cybersecurity and efficiency.

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Explaining the latest research highlights of the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) at the Hong Kong Science Park on Thursday, institute chief executive Dr Franklin Tong Fuk-kay said the body had been working on improving existing facial recognition technology, which can identify a person based on his or her facial features.

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“The moment you enter the bank, the bankers can recognise who you are and immediately take you to a room. The private banker instead of the retail banker will talk to you,” Tong said of the application of the technology. “They can profile you and know who you are.”

Tong added: “In the future, we talk about IDs. Right now, to access a bank account, you need two IDs. One ID is your PIN code. Maybe another ID is coming from biometrics, perhaps coming from your facial recognition, from your eyes or some other behaviourial authentication.”

Dr Duncan Wong, Astri’s director of security and data sciences, said while facial recognition technology was not new, the institute improved it by adding sentiment analysis, which could detect a person’s expression.

“We can actually detect whether the person is a real live person or just a fake model,” Wong said. “We can trace the movement of the head. We can detect the expression of the person and the system can ask the user to make some expressions, like smile or make an angry face, to tell if the person is a real one.

“In order to upgrade the existing facial recognition system, we have to make sure the algorithm is fully optimised so that the recognition can be done in real time.”

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Another area Astri is targeting is developing an artificial intelligence system that can recognise handwritten Chinese characters and accurately convert them into a digital format to save time.

“Almost all industries need [the technology]. Imagine you file forms. E-governments would love to have it and the banks would love to have it because it would solve a lot of problems,” Tong said.

The chief executive said the system could already read 4,000 Chinese characters and the institute was expanding it.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority figures show there were 11 million online bank accounts in Hong Kong last year, which generated 17 million transactions valued at HK$7.3 trillion on average every month.

Financial losses arising from cybercrime in Hong Kong jumped 51 per cent last year to HK$1.82 billion. Electronic banking fraud and social media deception were key sources.

Astri, founded in 2000, received HK$124 million of government subsidies last year and recorded a surplus of HK$7.6 million.