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Escape from the Sandbox

Escape from the Sandbox

Posted on 18th October 2021

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One of the (many) great things about my job, other than the obvious pleasure in helping people move on in their careers, is that, of necessity we have to keep up with developments in the tech world. At Be-IT, we are actively encouraged to learn about technology: in fact, many of my colleagues have a somewhat geeky approach and an interest in new tech that verges on the pathological at times.  That’s good though.  Such an interest demonstrates our genuine interest in the subjects that our candidates and clients work on every day and, as a result, enhances our credibility. With that in mind, I’m going to write a series of blogs featuring a few of the stories that have appeared in the tech press over the last few weeks that have particularly caught my eye…  

Firstly, a story that both interests and concerns me.  A trial is being run this month to use AI, more specifically FRT (facial recognition technology) to prevent under-age kids from buying alcohol. The thinking, which I get, is that it could replace ID cards and prevent abuse of violence towards shop workers.

Currently, this tech is integrated into self-checkout systems used by the major supermarket chains but they have not been able to deploy it because of UK licensing laws.  Now, what the Home Office is describing as “alcohol sandbox” trials will enable the AI technology to be activated, as long as it is operated legally and agreed with local licensing authorities and police.

The system works via a facial analysis system to check the age of faces with an average accuracy of within 1.5 years for those aged 13-24, rising to under a year for 16 and 17-year-olds.  The good news is that it cannot link a face to an identity and the manufacturer claims that only the age check will be saved and no human will ever see the picture as the image is then automatically deleted.  So far, so good.  Next, if the customer agrees, a photo of their face will be taken. The software works out their approximate their age, to an average accuracy of within 1.5 years for those aged 13-24, rising to under a year for 16 and 17-year-olds. 

If ‘computer says no’ and determines that the young customer looks below age, then they have the option to share their date of birth anonymously via an app – or they can wait for store approval from a human assistant.


There are, in my view, some obvious flaws here.  Firstly, there is the notion of getting the population used to FRT.  As my colleagues have written here ad nauseam LINK, there are serious matters of privacy at play here.  Secondly, can you seriously imagine that someone who is genuinely over 18 but is flagged by the FRT as being under-age, say in an off-licence in one of the rougher parts of Glasgow, is going to meekly accept it.  The potential for abuse and violence may be reduced, but it’s not going to go away…

Scott Bentley, Be-IT



Posted in News, Opinion

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