Biometric BACE API founder plans to bring AI problem-solving approach to all aspects of life

Ghana-based prize-winning startup says data protection policies needed

passive biometric liveness

Charlette N’Guessan hit the headlines in September 2020 when she won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s £25,000 ($33,000) Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. N’Guessan developed the biometric BACE API to provide facial recognition software for remote verification from the cloud, built specifically for identifying African users as face biometric systems developed elsewhere have been trained to work primarily with white users.

N’Guessan, from Côte d’Ivoire, was the first ever woman to win the Africa Prize and the first winner to be based in _Ghana. Fifteen shortlisted teams in the competition received eight months of support and training in developing a business plan and marketing, according to the Academy.

A key difference for N’Guessan’s system is that it uses live images from the user’s device or short video, rather than a still image. This allows for biometric liveness detection by the software without any dedicated hardware and then recognition of the face by artificial intelligence against an official identity document.

As a plugin to companies’ existing software, the BACE API brings cost-effective user verification. Banks, for example, can allow completely new customers to open accounts remotely as well as authenticate access for existing customers without needing open branches in more remote areas.

As N’Guessan’s startup, BACE Group, based in Accra, is able to offer Know Your Customer (KYC) solutions at a lower cost to other methods, it’s hoping it can help increase rates of financial inclusion on the continent.

The firm has noted an increase in interest as the COVID-19 pandemic hit as companies and organizations have sought to improve their remote services.

BACE Group is hoping to move into more areas such as crime-fighting, transport, agriculture and education and has launched a division offering advice to African businesses on the benefits of biometric customer verification, including remote verification for rural areas, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Reuters.

“It’s time for us as young African engineers to start working on solutions to solve our local challenges,” she told the Foundation, speaking about the credibility afforded by her team’s ‘by Africans, for Africans’ approach.

Trust in the system is another challenge for the team. Companies do not necessarily fully trust the startup to handle the private biometric data of their customers. While continent-wide efforts are being made to define and legislate for data protection, it is still weak, non-existent or even seen as discriminatory, for example in Kenya. Companies struggle to adopt new approaches in an environment with few clear rules.

“We are aware of this, and we have been working to build trust, educate our target, and build quality and secure products. Also, we signed strategic partnerships to get more support and drive our works,” N’Guessan is quoted as saying in an interview with Techpoint.Africa.

N’Guessan also spoke to Thomson Reuters about the broader issue of the application and perception of the technologies used by BACE Group. “It’s very important to be responsible and ethical with AI,” she said, “That’s why we have defined policies between businesses and end users and we make sure the client is aware of how the data will be used by the company.”

Growing tech adoption, internet penetration and mobile phone ownership in Africa could create a great deal of opportunities for the team, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing firms that require ID verification to bring in remote services sooner than previously planned. The choice to use customers’ own devices rather than hardware in a bank or store which might require other biometrics such as fingerprints is also proving very timely. N’Guessan’s team has proven it has the technology and will have to prove that it can deploy it safely.

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