AI-driven booze bouncers can ID you with face scan

Cheerio to cheeky Chardonnay chancers

Good news for older boozehounds – the UK government plans to inject age estimation AI into supermarket alcohol sales.

This means that rather than standing in front of a self-service till twiddling your thumbs waiting for a member of staff to make you feel old, the face-scanning AI will wave it through automatically.

It's not such good news for the youth who have long relied on employee apathy to fuel their nights on a park bench with a bottle of strong cider, but there will always be the ancient method of recruiting a vagrant to pass the check for you. Sadly, it also spells an end for that confidence boost you get when asked for your ID in your 30s.

Trials of the technology have already taken place at British supermarkets Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, and Co-Op. Cameras at self-service checkouts take three seconds to scan the buyer's face and if the system deems them to be under 25, they must present ID to staff.

Other trials used a standalone system that worked as "a guide for the till operator to help retailers make more informed judgments" in other local outlets including Bargain Booze, Tippl, and Wine Rack.

This all comes as part of a government thrust in the UK to clamp down on what has long been an inexact science. The Home Office is also examining "digital IDs" where official documents and a recording of the user's face are uploaded to an app, which can then be shown in place of physical ID.

"The government is keen to enable the secure and appropriate use of new technologies that can improve the experience of consumers and retailers," it said. "We are therefore consulting on whether to amend the [Licensing Act 2003] so as to allow digital identities and technology to play a role in age verification."

The government heads see potential in these technologies to reduce staff assaults and mitigate alcohol-related crime and health issues. They also aim to apply similar verification methods for online alcohol purchases, akin to age verification for knife deliveries.

Julie Dawson, chief policy and regulatory officer at Yoti, a company specializing in digital IDs, views the consultation as a pivotal moment.

"We're pleased to see today's news from the Home Office, discussing whether age verification technology should be allowed for the sale of alcohol," she said. "This is a significant step forward and demonstrates the growing importance and demand for digital proof of age. Our technology can help remove the significant challenges and high levels of abuse faced by retail, bar and security staff when it comes to assessing the age of customers. It can better protect minors from accessing age-restricted goods and give people a more convenient way to prove their age.

"If the law is changed, this will be a game-changer for UK retailers and other licensed premises, who can use our technology to improve compliance rates and enhance the customer experience. We will be responding to the consultation, sharing our learnings from the Home Office trials and our experience working with supermarkets."

Tom Ironside from the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the consultation, highlighting the urgency of implementing this technology. "We have long campaigned for digital age estimation technology to be used to verify a person's age for the purchase of alcohol," he said.

"With incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff sharply rising, the technology would help to make stores a safer place to work and shop. Digital forms of age verification can already be used for all other age-restricted products such as tobacco, knives and medicine, and there is no reason this cannot also be extended to alcohol sales." ®

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