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NEC CTO sees boost to biometrics and AI R&D from pandemic as potential Olympics push looms



NEC Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Motoo Nishihara said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the speed of development of face biometrics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, according to the Indian Express.

Talking to the paper in a video interview earlier this week, Nishihara illustrated NEC’s efforts during the pandemic, highlighting two new applications in particular.

The first one is NEC’s video imaging technology able to assess the requisite social distance between themselves in a crowd, e.g. in airports, and send an alert if the distance is not respected.

The other technology the CTO mentioned in the interview is facial recognition, which biometric algorithms NEC has recently improved to identify individuals wearing masks.

According to Nishihara, facial and iris recognition could also be used to facilitate the rollout of vaccines and other products in the near future.

Moreover, NEC’s AI technology could also be used in conjunction with the company’s face detection algorithms to effectively detect cancer cells and help with cancer treatment.

NEC is also currently deploying some of its biometric solutions in Africa, with the firm’s fingerprint identification system already utilized on the continent to see whether babies have been vaccinated, and what kind of vaccination they have received.

Deploying biometrics to support the Tokyo Olympics

As mentioned by Nishihara, NEC has been proactive in developing biometric solutions aimed at tackling the effects of the pandemic on traveling.

The company has also been reportedly collaborating with the Tokyo Olympics’ organizers to provide facial recognition for contact tracing during the event.

Despite these efforts, however, the future of the event is still uncertain with Japan declaring a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo earlier this month.

President of World Athletics and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Lord Sebastian Coe made an appearance on ABC’s The Ticket podcast last week, saying the IOC is taking measures to make sure the Olympics can take place.

“What gives me confidence that organizations and all the key delivery partners around the Tokyo games are focused in an even greater way to deliver games that are safe and secure,” he said.

According to Coe, the past year has shown how sports events can still happen, with certain precautions in place like mandatory social distancing in stadiums, as well as running events outdoors as much as possible.

“[Moreover,] it’s not just financial […] it is also spiritual,” Coe said, “The world needs sport. There are billions of people around the globe that want the games to take place, including of course the athletes.”

Coe’s words are echoed by IOC vice-president and chair of the Tokyo Coordination Commission John Coates in the same podcast episode, who told The Ticket that “there has been no discussion on cancellation” of the Tokyo Games so far.

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