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Facial biometrics and other AI-trends in the Middle East

Facial biometrics and other AI-trends in the Middle East — RecFaces

The global facial recognition market, already quite developed, is predicted to get yet even further growth at a rate higher than that of other branches in the IT industry.

According to Future Market Insights, it should grow from $5.2 billion USD in 2022 to $22.5 billion by 2032 (≈ 15.7% a year).

As for the biometric identification software market, it is reported to expand even faster than the facial recognition market in general, as well as the software market for law enforcement.
Reportlinker predicts that the total global biometrics market will grow from $27.88 billion USD in 2021 to $32.48 billion in 2022 with a total annual growth rate of 6.50%. In 2026, it is expected to grow to $59.32 billion with the average annual growth rate of about 16.25% for 2021—2026.


Technology race in the regions
Interesting projects and prospects of the Middle East market
Ethics and regional peculiarities of legislative regulation

Technology race in the regions

According to Gartner research, by the end of 2022 up to 91% of enterprises worldwide will use artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies (including biometric facial recognition) in various forms. According to PwC, AI algorithms will radically change global business by 2030, contributing up to $15.7 trillion USD to the global economy.

Middle Eastern countries do not want to miss out on the new «Gold Rush». While AI makes yet insignificant 2% of the entire global market, according to PwC estimates, AI technologies can contribute up to $320 billion to the region’s economy by the end of the decade.

Up until 2030, the economic strategies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia are already fully focused on the development of AI, with Qatar working on its own initiatives in the industry.

The UAE and Qatar also plan to employ AI-technologies to transform outdated infrastructure and congested roads into a modern urban environment for a healthy and productive lifestyle.

According to Triton research report, the facial recognition market is expected to grow in the Middle East by an average of 16.93% per year in 2019—2028.

For example, the MarkNtel Advisors «UAE Facial Recognition Market Analysis 2020» report shows that the UAE facial recognition market will grow exponentially in 2020—2025. Dubai will have the largest share of the UAE's facial recognition market in the coming years. The launch of advanced technologies, such as intelligent face recognition based on deep learning, will also help to accelerate the integration.

The facial recognition market in the UAE is mainly based upon public security and surveillance. Since the UAE’s government institutions actively use technologically advanced systems, the facial recognition market in the UAE occupies a significant share. Among key players MarkNtel Advisors considers Emirates Face Recognition, NTC, Ayonix, Cognitec, CryptoMetrics, ACIX Middle East, Muzun, Huawei, WAMA, RecFaces, Aratek and others.

Interesting projects and prospects of the Middle East market

Back in 2017, the Mecca Region Development Authority of Saudi Arabia (MRDA) developed a biometric control system in the form of a bracelet in order to collect data during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The data includes identification data, health data, and GPS coordinates.

The system is enhanced by real-time CCTV that collects and analyzes video information. Cameras are installed all over the Southern line of the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro (MMMSL), as well as in holy Muslim places such as the Great Mosque of Mecca, Arafat, Jamarat and Mina.

Among other large-scale projects that are underway in the region is the construction of a 170-kilometer smart city Line worth about $500 billion USD according to the NEOM project. AI technologies will contribute to the development of hypernetwork communities and use data to improve transport interchanges and cargo logistics.
A rendering of the 170-kilometer city Line with an external mirror facade that merges with nature. Photo by: Neon

Alongside with infrastructure and logistics projects, so is growing the number of face recognition systems used to track working time. For instance, the UAE’s Bee'ah is integrating facial recognition to rationalize workplace conditions in its new smart headquarters. The office will use sensors, cameras and a voice recognition system to collect data about its visitors and workers. The new system will register people both at the entrance and exit, and identify those present at specific meetings.

Facial recognition systems gain popularity also in the public sector as well. Back in 2018, the Dubai police announced the installation of ten thousand cameras with facial recognition functions for the 2020 Expo. These devices issued verbal warnings to suspects informing them that they were under surveillance. This is just one example of the large-scale facial recognition integration in the UAE.

The same year, Saudi Arabia's passport office initiated the integration of facial recognition and eye scanning technology to control citizens and visitors of the country. This was done in order to achieve uninterrupted administration, expatriates’ arrival and departure control, as well as to ensure the convenient and easy arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Dubai border control also integrates with facial recognition. For example, a new biometric system based on facial and iris recognition has already been embedded at the passport control of Dubai International Airport. About 122 turnstiles are connected to the system, which are located in the departure and arrival zones.

This AI-based system is integrated at the initiative of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai (GDRFA — Dubai). The traditional passport control procedure takes 5-9 seconds, which is a lot in comparison with the performance of modern facial recognition systems that takes only a second. All that the passenger needs to pre-register for the flight and receive a boarding pass for presentation in the departure area.

Furthermore, this smart system as well as a number of others is being implemented with the help of Huawei, Google, BAE, NEC, Amazon and Alibaba to ensure the security of cities. At the same time, Huawei deals with infrastructure, Google creates cloud servers, BAE and NEC supply CCTV systems and face recognition cameras respectively, while Amazon and Alibaba provide their local cloud computing centers.

All these digital transformations now also demand legal transformations as well. The integration requires amendments to relevant legal acts. In 2021, the UAE Cabinet of Ministers approved the use of facial recognition to improve service quality in private and public sectors for services development to the private and public sectors. As it was officially announced by the government, facial recognition will be used to register clients in the «UAE Pass» application as part of the plan to launch the first secure digital national identity card for citizens and residents.

Currently, the number of registered users of UAE Pass exceeds 1.38 million people, including 628 thousand confirmed accounts. They have access to more than 6 thousand government and parastatal services.

As the next step of initiative, biometric passports were officially introduced in Saudi Arabia in February 2022 as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 program. Such a passport contains an electronic chip to protect the owner's personal data and photographs, as well as a verification function that can be automatically scanned by smart ACS when crossing international borders. Additionally, it includes three images of its owner, each encoded with different technologies.

Facial recognition is also being successfully integrated in business applications. This spring, Digital Barriers signed a contract for the supply of facial recognition software with Careem, a leading taxi service in the Middle East and North Africa. This company operates in more than fifty cities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Kuwait and other countries.

Careem is planning to use the new software in their mobile application for ridesharing to ensure safety of their passengers. Careem also plans to use this system to make the driver registration process safer: it will help to identify if a driver is authorized and accredited.

The region’s vast perspectives in terms of biometric systems’ integration are recognized by many companies which have been opening their regional offices in the area.

Just like that, Intelligent Security Systems (ISS) plans to expand its influence on the market of CCTV systems and biometrics in the Middle East region. The new office will sell their products and provide customers with technical support and maintenance services, as well as develop and configure locally and integrate security video stream software with facial recognition function.

Ethics and regional peculiarities of legislative regulation

Numerous cases where algorithms have reinforced gender and racial biases make researchers work on the ethics of AI, and some governments to develop methods for stricter industry regulation. This provokes discussions, how deep we can allow AI algorithms to go into our lives.

As a rule, intervention of authorities raises concerns about potential over-regulation in innovation, and some AI experts compare development of AI ethics rules with pharmaceutical standards established in Europe back in the 1960s.

Moreover, facial recognition technology is being deployed in various sectors of the Middle East, ranging from airport security to law enforcement. Despite the fact that the US and other Western countries put restrictions on the use of the technology, the Persian Gulf countries' market, including the UAE and Bahrain, turned out to be more favorable for smart CCTV systems.

The widespread use of CCTV systems is a source of constant concern for the public and regulatory authorities’ part of various countries. This issue becomes especially topical. The more AI systems are used, the more relevant this issue becomes. Though mandatory rules governing AI-use are still being developed in the Middle East countries, there are already some results. For instance, the UAE has already created a BRAIN – an institution responsible for ensuring that the country's AI initiatives remain ethical.

RecFaces also sees the potential in the MENA region. The company is opening its office with a Training center in Dubai, where training is conducted for technology partners, integrators and end customers. Beside training programs, students will receive comprehensive information about facial biometrics operations, as well as about the ethics and legal aspects of the use of biometric technologies.

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