The Rise of Facial Recognition Technology

As the iPhone X is about to teach the world, Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) will be the most important area of tech growth and innovation in the next five years. In my work with Softbank’s humanoid companion robots, facial recognition tech is at the core of what we do, seeing a face and responding accordingly.

This is because a companion robot which cannot recognize a human just isn’t viable for the market.

We use it primarily to engage with a person and deliver a key message, likely a brand or service message our clients want to convey. Our humanoid robotic form factor, called Pepper, allows for a deeply engaging experience for the person with whom it interacts


Taking it one step further, recognizing a person as actually them, as opposed to a device associated with them, is “identity”. While I was at Facebook, we prided ourselves on being able to serve ads to a specific person whom we could follow from device to device as they logged in.

Fundamentally, for the “holy grail” marketing concept of omnichannel marketing to work (that is, delivering a specific, targeted and contextually relevant message to a person at a certain moment in time), you must identify the actual person.

As we’ve seen in the news lately, not everyone on Facebook is who we think they are.

FRT, among other biometrics, completes the ability to identify, and thus, target a message to that specific person. This will be the most important next step to all forms of marketing including retail marketing, Ad Tech, and ecommerce shopping.

According to Cadent Consulting Group, CPG companies alone spend $225Bn a year in and around retail targeting consumers, relatively blindly, of which they spend $45Bn in digital marketing based on cookies and devices IDs. Further, $223Bn will be spent worldwide on digital advertising according to eMarketer.

Not only is this an efficient spend, it also doesn’t allow for the personalized message brands want to give to a particular, identified consumer of their products. That is, it doesn’t allow for real omnichannel marketing.

This is what is so hard to solve for the likes of Walmart, Carrefour, Aeon, Yamada, Aldi. And it is what their vendor partners and ad agencies like P&G, Unilever, Dentsu, and WPP are desperately trying to figure out and to which they ultimately, consistently overspend to try to overcome.


Putting marketing messaging aside, the second most important thing FRT allows for is attribution, truly identifying the person standing there typing in the commands. Attribution assigns provenance legally and forensically.

Attribution is a $690Bn market.

Google, Alibaba and Facebook are getting better at it every day, but as I’ve said, they don’t yet know the person 100%. 99% me is not really me. This is what every bank and financial institution is wrapping their heads around. Same with Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Ant Financial, Tencent, Baidu. Almost literally everyone.

The final piece is “intent recognition”. When you pick up a green shirt in the store, identifying that intent (ostensibly to buy a green shirt) lends itself to a series of potential interactions with you as shopper, especially if I know it’s you (identity).

For example, “do you need that in another size”? “Would you like me to add it to your online shopping basket”? When you understand intent, you can deepen the experience you provide to a shopper, a search query or a service you provide and then move that shopper all the way through the marketing funnel to purchase. Identity with intent is a powerful tool for marketers.



When you put it all together, Identity, Intent and Attribution, you have fundamentally changed the way we interact with technology in the world.

The Equifax hack deeply damaged the trust we have in institutions of all kinds to both know us (identity and attribution) and protect us going forward. Increasingly, these three core tech tenants (identity, attribution, intent) will become everything in industries like companion robotics, financial transactions, shopping/retail, consumer advertising and selling packaged goods and security.

Amazon knows this cold and is spending heavily to own it, but combining identity and attribution into a system, let alone intent, has not been done. This unlocks more than $285 billion dollar problem for three of the largest industries in North America alone, ad tech, CPG and retail.

It’s going to be exciting to see the race to develop FRT and incorporate these tech pieces over the next five years and the paradigm shifts that come with them.

For companion robotics if we can put these things together we are a long way down the path of creating meaningful, deep solutions to myriad business needs.