Now that Apple's introduced a fingerprint scan, what does the future hold for biometric tech?
Chaos Computer Club have given Apple one in the eye by undermining their fingerprint biometric security feature within 48 hours of the handset being in the publics hands. This makes the NYPD pavement pounding exhortations of the merits of the 5S security ring a little more hollow. Rest assured that Apple including such a feature is probably the thin wedge of biometrics featuring more in consumer devices. For one Valve, the online gaming colossus, have plans to include biometrics in their forthcoming console Steambox. That's a concerning trend, given the amount of countries already deploying the technology within organs of the state. So what else other biometrics can we expect to see in the gadgets of the near future?
An alternative to Apples botched biometrics could be this ATM unlocking device from Fujitsu. It recognises the patterns of veins in your hand as a unique signature, allowing you to unlock ATMs as effortlessly as you presently do contactless payment.
Blood Flow Biometrics
The network of capillaries, veins and other blood vessels that criss cross every square millimetre of your skin are a rich vein of unique biometric data. That's where the distinction between the two forms of eye based biometrics is important An iris scan treats the pattern of your iris as the unique feature where the retinal scan goes far deeper to capture the pattern of blood vessels at the back of your eye. The basis behind iris recognition biometrics is super high resolution photos capture the pattern of blood vessels at the back of your eyeball. Creepy image enhancement can also accentuate the flow of blood across your skin, increasing the range of physical features which can be measured by computer systems.
While talking sexed up image processing programs it would negligent not to mention how massive facial recognition biometrics is. At the sillier end of the spectrum is Google Glasses proposed ability to fashion fingerprint people in a crowd. Occupying the sinister side however is the DHS’s Biometric Optical Surveillance System - a sufficiently encompassing panopticon that concerns over Google Glass sousveillance will seem frivolous. It would be unfair not to mention Facebooks stalled (for now) attempt to contribute to a facial recognition database.
Speak No Evil
Your voice is a goldmine of unique data, and more identifiable facets of vocalisations are identified each year. The Voicegrid technology demoed above is able to recognise any voice in it’s database. The Slate points to use of this technology in Mexico and by the FBI. Bu where do such vocal databases exist? Well Google has one: they collected troves of vocal data from all across the US to improve it’s voice recognition features (integral to the utility of Google Glass). Medical imperatives for such databanks exist too: for instance researchers have been decoding the imperceptible cadences in patients voices to diagnose depression. So what’s to be done? Maybe bring one of these with you wherever you go? Or go old school and get your hands on a vocoder!
Exhale | Inhale
No matter how many surveillance subverting silly walks we adopt and how much CV dazzle we daub on on our mugs our fleshy bodies are still exuding unique identifiers every waking moment of the day. This is where biometrics enters “eww-gross” territory as they determine our exhaled breaths to be unique fingerprint material. Likewise our personal odour is a multidimensional smellscape unique to our personality (and lifestyle too!. Detecting the unique biometric signature in both is no easy task, computationally speaking. So some cold comfort can be taken from the fact that said technology has a LONG way to go to match up to the finely tuned biosensors that are a bloodhounds nose or a honeybee (fun fact: bees are commonly deployed as bomb detectors such is their olfactory prowess.)
You have to wonder why Apple didn't opt for the path of least resistance given that research from 2010 indicates that your ear (you know that organ that's been inseperable from telephony for more than a century) also constitutes a unique biometric identifier!
Walk with Swag
Haters gonna hate aiight? But watch your step son and pay heed to a Chinese developed software laced floor system that could identify you based on how you walked. Backing up this insidious research is further research from Georgia Tech which indicated that your jogging stride is unique to you, provided the areas of hip, knee and adjoining joints can be effectively measured. Of course the US hasn't been idle in this regard: gait-based biometrics were an area of intense DARPA research under its Human Identification at a Distance (HumanID) programme. The technological overheads required to make gait biometrics a society wide concern will impede it from reaching CCTV style ubiquity, for now. Lest we forget the Kinect is a pretty cheap way of approximating a passerby's movement (and more!), and the Xbox One Kinect’s will be “always on”.
Among the quantified self enthusiasts self-tracking tools are often fashioned into wearable computing. We saw the Nymi device aims to use your heartbeat as a biometric identifier, and before that bioimpedance bracelets were mooted as essential security accessories. The science behind that last one seems a little shaky - it says the amount of resistance our body puts up to an electrical current is unique to each one of us.
DNA vs DNT (do not track!)
This is a level of molecular surveillance that surpasses the breath & odour monitoring mentioned previously. There is no option to spoof the personal data (as one can with fingerprints and irises contained in your genes. What's stopping this technology from being “game over” in terms of biometric monitoring is (a) the organised resistance to governments assembling DNA databases by stealth (b) the fact that the technology required to efficiently and accurately sequence an entire persons genome (which would be an immensely more accurate identifier than the SNP methods used in this Heather Dewy-Hagborg Stranger Visions) isn't here – yet! But the cost of such technology is plummeting thanks to new DNA reading technologies, so this is one to be mindful of.
Behaviormetric smartphone surveillance
A terminological distinction between biometrics (physiological identifiers) and ‘behaviourmetrics’ (habitual identifiers) illuminates the worryingly long rope that security technology has when it comes to uniquely identifying you from data that doesn't come from direct contact with your body. The Uni of Illinois have designed artifical intelligence that learns your typing, tapping and swiping patterns. And it can then lock others out of the phone whose patterns don't tally with what it recognises. It's proper “I can't let you do that Dave” stuff. Interestingly similar habit inferencing software is posited as being a way of keeping you from using your phone while ‘tired and emotional’. However it's also sobering to think that each user interface innovation bolsters the range of ways your smartphone interactions can be correlated to your identity. Kyle MacDonald's ongoing efforts to catalogue the finger tracking, hand tracking and gesture recognition techologies available is an interesting read for the curious mind.