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Face Recognition Technology a Double-edged Sword for India

At a time when pressure is mounting on tech companies to utilise facial recognition technology with care to avoid its misuse, Google has also said it will not offer the controversial technology for now

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial recognition device is ready to scan another passenger at a United Airlines gate (Representational image). VOA

As the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under Home Ministry aims to install Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) to track and nab criminals, the debate on the misuse of the face recognition technology has sparked fresh debate in India.

Facing the scrutiny across the globe, the face recognition technology has proved beneficial in some cases, like detecting and disrupting the distribution of child sexual abuse materials online.

In April last year, Delhi Police could identify almost 3,000 missing children in just four days during a trial of a facial recognition system.

While the benefits of the technology for law enforcement agencies in fighting crime and identifying missing people and also for the industry for business purposes cannot be denied, it is the misuse of the technology that can put the citizens of the country in trouble.

According to Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not specially deal with misuse of this technology.

“The first casualty of the absence of regulatory framework for facial recognition technology is people’s right to privacy,” Duggal told IANS.

“In India, there is not even any framework to regulate the storage of facial recognition data,” he added.

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Face recognition tool was first launched in 2012.

Some of the major technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon also agree that there is a need for governments to regulate this technology.

Microsoft President Brad Smith has shot down calls to stop selling facial recognition software to government agencies, saying the move would be “cruel” as it could hamper good work such as diagnosing rare diseases.

Over 85 human rights groups wrote to Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, demanding the companies should stop selling facial recognition software to the governments as it would lead to surveillance.

In a blog post in December, Smith had said that given the potential for abuse of the fast advancing facial recognition technology, governments across the world need to start adopting laws to regulate this technology.

Also Read: More Than 1,000 Android Apps Gain Your Data Even if Denied Permission: Report

Historians in the US have used the technology to identify the portraits of unknown soldiers in Civil War photographs taken in the 1860s.

“Researchers successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose a rare, genetic disease in Africans, Asians and Latin Americans,” he added. However, he did warn that widespread use of this technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy.

At a time when pressure is mounting on tech companies to utilise facial recognition technology with care to avoid its misuse, Google has also said it will not offer the controversial technology for now. (IANS)

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Developers Can Now Start Building Hindi Skills for Alexa in India

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between

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Alexa, Amazon, Virtual Assistant
Amazon Echo led the Indian smart speakers market with 59 per cent share in 2018 (Representational image). Pixabay

Amazon on Tuesday announced that developers can now start building Alexa skills for customers in India with the new Hindi voice model available in Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

Developers would get a headstart and submit skills for certification as the company prepare to offer engaging experiences for Alexa users in one of the most spoken languages in the country, the company said in a statement.

Commercial hardware manufacturers who want to develop Alexa Built-in products for Hindi-speaking customers in India can request early access to the invite-only Alexa Voice Service (AVS) developer preview.

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of free, self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create skills, or capabilities, for Alexa.

Amazon last year launched a new category of skill called “Cleo” that enables customers in India help Alexa learn Hindi and other languages. The idea was to improve Alexa’s language model and help her gradually speak in local languages.

Lawsuit, Amazon, Alexa
The lawsuit alleges Amazon of saving ‘voice prints’ of millions of children by unlawfully recording their conversations around Alexa-enabled smart devices. Pixabay

Apart from Hindi, users can respond to Alexa’s English statements in Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other regional languages.

Alexa is currently available in over 80 countries and speaks more than 14 language variants.

One can sign up for the first webinar on Hindi skill building scheduled on July 24. Developers in India who have their Hindi-language skill certified for publication in India before July 31 would receive exclusive early bird Alexa merchandise.

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Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa, told IANS recently that the company is working on infusing regional languages capabilities in Alexa for the Indian market but these are early days.

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between. (IANS)