Mind over matter: Researchers turn thoughts into passwords
Scientists demonstrate ability to differentiate individual brain activity. May be how you access your digital life in the future.
By Evan Dashevsky
April 11, 2013 — IDG News Service — In the not-crazy-distant future, instead of using a password to navigate our digital lives, we may be able to think our way into our various online services and ever-growing array of digital whatnots.
Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's School of Information claim to have devised a method to use biosensors to accurately differentiate the brainwaves of specific subjects as they visualized songs, images, or other mental tasks. The brain activity resulting from these tasks appear to be inherent to each individual and may one day supplant traditional (and hackable) password security systems.
The researchers used a commercially available EEG reader that retails for less than $100 from NeuroSky. The Bluetooth-enabled device uses a "dry connection" via a sensor placed on the forehead. It kind of resembles a hands free wraparound phone headset, except that the microphone is snuggled against your forehead rather than in front of your mouth. According to NeuroSky's site, while their device cannot sense specific neurons firing-off, they can register "a dominant mental state, driven by collective neuron activity."
Test subjects were asked to perform various mental tasks such as focusing on their breathing, imagining their finger moving up and down, or listening to an audio tone while concentrating on a dot. Each subject also had their brain activity measured while performing personalized mental tasks such as visualizing a repetitive motion from a familiar sport, silently singing a song of their choice, or focusing on a thought of their choosing for 10 seconds.
The team claims that by customizing an "authentication threshold" for each user, they were able to keep error rates under 1 percent.
Biometrics haven't taken off
While manufacturers have experimented with various forms of biometric identification, they have yet to become widely adapted due to cost, lack of speed, and perhaps even the public's latent fears of how that information might be used in a future Skynet dystopia. (Biometrics have, however, been openly embraced by the nations like India, which hopes to log biometic information on more than a billion of its residents).
This brainwave or "passthought" technology--in its current state--would appear to take too long to be practical for many daily tasks. However, if it proves to be accurate, then it may be useful for seldom-used tasks that are only accessed sporadically.
If future versions of smartphones or other wearable tech (which we already readily paste to our heads) gain the ability to read EEGs--and individual brain activity could be established accurately and reliably in under five seconds--this may be a first biometric scheme to become widespread.