The National University of Lesotho (NUL) computer scientist, Napo Mosola and his student, Mokhutli Letsae, are creating and testing an application that prevents crooks from stealing and using your information online. To do this, he just needs a picture of your face!
This is happening as NUL computer experts get deeper and deeper into Artificial Intelligence.
Yes, the app does not depend on passwords and usernames only, it also uses your face – because no one else has your face! With this app, you are logged into your computer for as long as you stand or sit with your face in front of a computer or smart-phone.
If you leave your computer or phone, it logs out immediately and automatically – because you are no longer there.
It is, according to Mosola, “a real-time, continuous and frictionless face-recognition app.” When you are in front of a computer or a phone camera, the app is continually scanning your face to make sure, not only that it is you, but also that you are still there.
“The system is meant to be used in high security units such as those found in banks, armies, intelligence and for personal use,” Mosola said.
When you register into the system, you need to create a password and a username. We are all familiar with that. With this system, you are allowed to provide a picture of your face. Now, this is where tables are turned. Once you have provided a picture, the system kind of “knows” you.
Whether you grow older by the day it knows you. Whether you are now suntanned, it knows you. Whether you have now turned to be a bearded man and you have grown a bald on your head, it still knows you.
How is that even possible? “It is possible because we train the computer to recognise your face despite the fact that your face itself is changing,” Mosola said.
That is called Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Before you marvel at this, remember there is nothing new about this. Humans did it before. We can still recognise faces of people we last met 20 years ago, can’t we?
No matter how such people have changed, we still know it’s them.
Some of us, especially the Born Before Technology (BBT) generation, may still be in denial concerning the following new reality. We live in two worlds in the 21st Century. “The first world is called the physical world. The second world is called the cyber (online) world,” Mosola said. A company or government that hasn’t accepted this reality belongs to the past.
It belongs to the 20th Century.
“Think about this,” Mosola continued. “We learn online, we do business online, we buy online, we sell online.” And, in today’s world, we even tend to socialise more online than we do in real life (hence the successes and enormity of the all-powerful social media, the likes of Facebook).
Interestingly, it is in the power of the cyber world where you find its greatest weaknesses. Just as you have frauds, crooks and imposters in the real word, you have frauds, crooks and imposters in the cyber world.
But, lo and behold, here is the difference.
In the cyber world, the crooks, frauds and imposters are multiplied 4-fold because they can hide. These folks are like mushrooms, they thrive in the dark. Their job is to steal your passwords and usernames without you noticing and then start acting camouflaged as you.
Worse still, an imposter stealing your information could be, as President Donald Trump would put it, “a 400 pound guy lying on his bed in a basement in New Jersey,” in the United States of America, while you are here in Lesotho, thousands of miles away!
But there is something that this 400 pound guy in New Jersey won’t steal. It’s called your face. Well he may steal a picture of your face. “But what the app needs is not a picture of your face, it needs your face,” Mosola said. “The system needs a picture of your face in the beginning and that’s it. From there it needs your face.”
And this is where it gets tricky for the crooks.
Suppose you are a 400 pound guy on your bed in New Jersey. And you have managed to steal someone’s login details. The moment you want to log in, you can’t because the system requires you to stand in front of it so that it can survey your face. And when it “sees” your rotund (round) cheeks, it “laughs” at you before it rejects you as a crook.
Suppose you are just an innocent chap who just forgot to log out of a computer and someone comes in to masquerade as you. He is too late because the moment your face disappeared from that computer, the app recognised that you had left and it logged out in a millisecond.
Well, Mosola is sure as ever that he won’t get rid of the “400 pound guys” but, certainly, he is making really hard for them to prey on the innocents with their mischief.