A Chinese customer experiences a facial recognition payment system, also known as the "Smile to Pay" system, at a KFC fast food restaurant in Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province on Sept 1, 2017. (STR / AFP)
Chinese consumers of beauty products like masks and skin care creams and lotions may find in artificial intelligence or AI technology a new justification for indulgent spending.
A consumer's face is becoming central to wider applications of the facial recognition technology in sectors like retail and finance.
A pretty face and a lovely smile could make payments quicker and easier at restaurants and other points of sale. For, the facial recognition technology works better when a face has distinct features.
Take the KFC restaurant in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, for example. Here, consumers can process their payment simply by smiling after placing their order at one of the self-service screens. They don't need to bring cash and credit cards.
The service was launched in cooperation with Ant Financial, the finance affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, and Megvii Technology, a startup specializing in facial recognition technology.
A consumer's face is becoming central to wider applications of the facial recognition technology in sectors like retail and finance
KFC's self-service screens are equipped with 3-D cameras that can scan a customer's face to verify identity. Consumers can also input their phone numbers to ensure security.
Luo Na, a college student in Hangzhou, said: "It's really cool. I often forget my wallet at home. Occasionally, with a beautiful smile, I can even get a discount."
That is the latest example of how quickly consumers and companies are embracing new technologies in China.
The technology is finding uses in financial services as well.
Cloudwalk Technology Co Ltd, a startup incubated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is helping banks to boost efficiency by upgrading their facial recognition technology with machine learning.
"Artificial intelligence offers us a good opportunity to boost the accuracy of facial recognition, which can help banks simplify procedures and improve efficiency," said Zhou Xi, CEO of Cloudwalk.
When a customer walks into a bank branch, the company's facial recognition technology can help bank employees know whether he or she is a VIP client, and what expressions are on his or her face as well as what meanings they are suggesting.
Call it artificial emotional intelligence, if you will.
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Based on such information, bank employees can optimize their communication skills to recommend appropriate products to the customer.
Zhou said bank customers can also withdraw money from ATMs using the system. Consumers don't have to bring debit cards though phone numbers or identity card numbers are needed to ensure security.
The company's clients now include big State-owned financial institutions such as Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Bank of China.
In October, CloudWalk inked a strategic deal with Agriculture Bank of China, which will deploy the former's facial recognition technology at its about 20,000 branches and outlets in China.
Facial recognition technology is also used in online banking. HSBC Holdings PLC, a British multinational banking and financial services holding company, for instance, allows customers to transfer up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,515) per day to new payees by combining facial recognition with passwords on the bank's mobile app.
The app can perform an instant scan of the current user's facial features, and the user will be asked to make some facial movements or impressions, such as blinking, eyeball rolling or a swing of the head, chosen at random.
This ensures the identity is that of a real person not a picture in front of the camera, which makes it safer than fingerprint recognition. According to the data from HSBC's laboratory, the error rate in facial recognition would be around 1 out of a million, while that for fingerprints is around 1 out of 50,000.