Computers have advanced in the last 20 years from building-sized mainframes to smartphones that can fit in your pocket (and have become infinitely more capable, to boot), yet we use passwords exactly the same way now as we did when the first George Bush was in office. And possibly some of the same passwords, too.
That may finally change in the next few years. Biometric technologies like voice and facial recognition are gaining footholds in the marketplace (outside of Bond movies and Homeland), and researchers and entrepreneurs are hard at work developing new ways for users to identify themselves to their devices.
Here’s a look at 10 biometric technologies in development right now that might not be as far-fetched as they seem.
- The Smell Test: In 2009, citing the desire to improve “the ability to identify individuals who may intend harm to the nation,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security looked into ways to use body odor as a method of uniquely identifying individuals. Changes in odor could potentially be evidence of deception.
- Walking Style: Japanese researchers have found that, using 3D imaging, a person’s gait can be used to correctly identify them 90 percent of the time. Moreover, the way a bare foot interacts with the ground has been shown to correctly identify individuals as much as 99.6 percent of the time. This could help airport security officials identify travelers as they march through the security line in their stocking feet.
- Keystroke Signature: The content of your password may not be its only distinctive feature – researchers have found that analyzing the speed and rhythm with which users type entry keys enhances reliable authentication.
- ‘Cognitive Fingerprint’: Perhaps no one thinks memorizing long alphanumerical passphrases is outdated more than the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency is developing a concept it calls the “cognitive fingerprint” which would combine tactics like eye scans, keystrokes and even analysis of online surfing behaviors to continuously authenticate users.
- Palm Vein Analysis: School cafeterias aren’t usually on the cutting edge of anything, but a school district in Florida is changing that by using palm vein readers to scan students’ hands to pay for their lunches. The new system replaces swipe cards and PINs with near-infrared light scanners that require no physical contact with the students’ hands. Now if they could just modernize those chicken patty sandwiches…
- Motion Identification: Researchers at Cornell University have reverse engineered a Microsoft Kinect to identify certain common household activities like cooking and brushing teeth. Their goal is to use this type of motion-recognition technology in the smart homes or personal assistive robots of the future, though critics decry this as overly invasive and ultimate proof that video games will be the downfall of society.
- Know That Schnoz: Iris scans may be the most accurate way of using the human face as a method of identification, but a team of researchers at Bath University in the UK had an idea – what if they weren’t? They used a program called PhotoFace to analyze the human nose and categorize the sniffers of their subjects into six main nose types: Roman, Greek, Nubian, Hawk, Snub and Turn-up. The upside of the research is that human noses are more difficult to conceal than eyes. The downside is that it turns out the schnoz scan is indeed far less accurate than the iris scan.
- Posterior Authentication: A team of Japanese researchers has developed a system that uses 400 sensors in a seat to identify the contours and pressure points of the human rear end. The derriere authenticator, which the researchers claim is 98 percent accurate, could have applications as an anti-theft device in cars.
- Earful of Information: It turns out the human ear is good for more than just protecting your hearing hole. Researchers have developed a system that measures the tubular structure of the inner ear and the elliptical shape of the outer ear to create a unique ‘ear print’ that is supposedly accurate 99.6 percent of the time.
- DNA Testing: DNA testing is virtually foolproof as a biometric identifier but hasn’t become a part of our daily lives because it is a costly and timely process. But researchers are hard at work developing ways to make the process cheaper and faster.