- * 'Pass-thoughts' are the new fingerprints
- OTTAWA -- Canadian researchers
hope to soon be able to use brain waves to unlock doors and get access
to bank accounts.
- Some companies are already offering iris recognition
systems that many countries want to put into biometric passports. But Julie
Thorpe, a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa wants to take the
idea much further.
- She says it is possible to do away with key cards, pin
numbers and a litany of other security tools that allow people to retrieve
bank money, access computer data or enter restricted building.
- "A user would simply think their password,"
said Thorpe, who hopes to develop the first biometric security device to
read your mind to authenticate users.
- Her idea, yet to be proven viable for commercial application,
assumes that brainwave signals, like fingerprints, vary slightly from person
to person, even when they think alike.
- "Everyone's brainwave signal is a bit different
even when they think about the same thing. They're unique just like fingerprints,"
- While people may be tricked into giving up their passwords,
smart cards may be lost or stolen, as can biometric templates stored on
computers for comparing eye or fingerprint scans, so-called "pass-thoughts"
- A user would only have to think up a different password
and save it on a computer, Thorpe said, describing what would become the
world's first changeable biometric security tool.
- The doctoral student is working with leading Canadian
security technology researcher Paul Van Oorschot in Ottawa to turn her
idea into reality.
- Her research builds on other efforts to develop rudimentary
brain-computer interfaces to help paralysed patients control their environment
- Whereas slight differences in brainwave patterns created
difficulties for researchers trying to build universal tools that could
translate thoughts into computer commands, these peculiarities make brainwaves
ideal for security applications, Thorpe said.
- "You could use a sound or music or childhood memory
as your pass. You could even flash someone an image to help them remember
their pass-thought," she said.
- Thorpe must still prove that people can reproduce clear,
concise signals over and over.
- "Often, unconscious thoughts, maybe a song in the
back of your mind, may blur a signal.
- There's a lot going on in people's heads," she said.
Also, current brain-computer interfaces are not yet up to the task.
- The latest electroencephalogram (EEG) hardware, which
measures electrical signals in the brain, consists of a costly bowl-shaped
cap dotted with electrodes that takes time to put on and requires a gel
be smeared on the person's head to bridge the gap between the electrodes
and their scalp.
- "It's not very fashionable, looks like a polka-dot
swimming cap," Thorpe said, noting how refinements are in the works.