While you’re still typing “11111111” for your password and waiting for reliable fingerprint scanners, the government and paranoid businesses are already using iris scanners and facial recognition systems for security. But the truly next-generation and potentially foolproof security systems may be based on brainprints. What are they, how do they work and when can we get them?
Assistant Professor of Psychology Sarah Laszlo and Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Zhanpeng Jin, researchers at Binghamton University in New York, have developed a security system based in brain imaging called Brainprint. It utilizes an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that reads brain responses to stimuli. Lazlo and Jin found that individuals have unique responses to various photographic images. Using a large set of these responses, they developed a unique “brainprint” that they believe is foolproof.
In their tests, Lazlo and Jin showed a rapid stream (2 per second) of images (celebrity photos, words, landmarks, etc.) to subjects wearing the EEG cap. Because of their backgrounds and experiences, most people react to the images differently. Someone who was bitten by a dog has different reactions to puppies than dog lovers. Using just 500 images, the software developed by the researchers was able to correctly identify one person out of 30 100% of the time.
What about hacking? Couldn’t someone with super mind control (a yogi perhaps) match the brainprint of another person? The researchers tested the system by flashing a light at two people wearing the EEG caps to see if their brain responses would eventually match. They didn’t. They also tested the subjects under stress and found that their brain reactions to the same images changed, meaning a person in a stressful situation (like having a gun pointed at them) might not be able to access their ATM if it were reading brainprints instead of pin numbers.
How about if your brainprint is somehow stolen? The team says you can just use a different set of images and create a new one.
So when will we have brain caps attached to our smart phones, doors and ATMs? Not anytime soon. The tests were based on a small group, the hacking test was limited and it will take a long time to have large numbers of people view the images and build the databases. Plus there’s the cap, which messes your hair up a lot more than fingerprint, iris or facial scanners. Lazlo and Jin see the system being used for checkpoints at high-security locations like the Pentagon, super-secret research centers, nuclear facilities and the like.
While you’re waiting for your brainprint cap, go change your passwords.