Built in Africa: Female Ivorian entrepreneur pioneers facial recognition tech

by Riyaz Patel

Charlette N’Guessan Desiree, 27, says her company’s facial recognition technology offers “trust and credibility” against a backdrop of concerns that Western-designed systems are more prone to errors when identifying non-White faces.

N’Guessan Desiree is the CEO and co-founder of BACE Group, a disruptive tech startup that provides AI-powered facial recognition services for online identity verification, and hopes its AI software will be used across the continent – helping universities to verify students for financial services, banks to sign up new clients, and security firms to fight crime.

“There would be less suspicion of tech created by Africans, for Africans.”

“It gives us trust and credibility,” said N’Guessan Desiree, a software engineer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

“It’s time for us as young African engineers to start working on solutions to solve our local challenges.”

BACE Group uses an application programme interface (API) software that can be used in existing apps or systems, together with facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

This tech helps online businesses or financial institutions to verify their customers’ identities remotely, allowing users to prove in real time that they are who they say they are without traveling long distances.

BACE recently launched a consulting arm to advise African businesses on how the technology can make it easier for them to verify new customers, such as people living in rural areas.

RESPONSIBILITY
But despite the technology’s huge potential, N’Guessan Desiree noted the importance of being “responsible and ethical with AI.”

“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.”

While AI facial recognition is being used globally to tackle diseases or prevent cyber crime, digital rights groups say it runs the risk of being misused to violate privacy or discriminate against users.

From targeting protesters in India to incorrectly identifying African Americans as criminals, campaigners warn that the technology can be dangerous both when it works well and when it works badly.

TRANSPARENCY
Last week, 100 businesses, governments, and nonprofits launched the Global AI Action Alliance, an initiative to make artificial intelligence more ethical and transparent, at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The alliance will identify tools and best practices to safely and ethically use AI, which is projected to contribute more than $14 trillion to the global economy by 2035, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

— Lara Srivastava (@digitalarati)
“This is something we want to be involved in,” said N’Guessan Desiree, who added that the lack of robust digital rights laws across Africa means strong company policies are necessary to prevent data abuse.

ROLE MODEL
But she said technology can be “beautiful and have significant impact” when used for good.

“From agriculture to finance to education, there is no limit. We can innovate and solve problems using tech.”

BACE is already gathering lots of attention, says Reuters.

N’Guessan Desiree won the 2020 Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the first woman ever to win the award.

“I want to motivate little sisters to say ‘It’s possible. If Charlette has done this, why not me?’”

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