Passwords have been around since ancient history, but they may become obsolete sooner than you think. According to a recent prediction by IBM Speech CTO David Nahamoo, many of the problems with passwords will be solved by biometric systems that can identify individuals based on unique biological features.
It's not just fingerprints, DNA and retinas anymore; the way you walk is unique and so is the way you type, for example. Orwell references may be inevitable, but the technology can be used for good as well, aiding in various interactive systems, from video games to cars to iPads, and otherwise making it easier to prove that you're you.
For a long time, it was hard to use biometrics quickly and accurately in our daily lives, but the combination of various identifiers may make the systems convenient enough for widespread use. A recent column in InformationWeek points to the United States Visitor And Information Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) as a prime example of a system that's been able to scale: "The enrollment and validation of these attributes is fast and accurate enough for use in everyday, large-scale deployments, and the Department of Homeland Security just announced it will pay Accenture Federal Services $71 million over 13 months to further improve the system."
There's also India's massive biometric census project, which is underway and aims to document all of the country's residents over the age of 15. When it's completed, the country will have unprecedented knowledge of its population, and the universal ID cards that will be created as a result promise to streamline many Indians' daily lives, from taking out loans to enrolling in school to paying taxes.
Scientists have also gotten smarter about denying access to fakers; a body of research within biometrics has developed that's devoted entirely to spoofing irises, faces and other data sources. Early fingerprint scanners were notoriously easy to fool, with tools as simple as a plastic bag filled with water, but researchers at SUNY Buffalo have developed techniques to test for the "liveness" of their input sources. Not only will sensors be able to track matching fingerprints and faces, but they'll correlate them with heartbeats and bodily movements to make sure that everything checks out.
On the individual misuse of Biometric IDs, Nahamoo reassures us:
"We’ve all seen the thriller sci-fi movies where a person is forced by the villain to scan their eye or finger to unlock a door. But that’s fiction. In reality, ATM cameras using facial and iris recognition may be able to detect stress, pupil dilation, and changes in heart rate and breathing patterns to establish a confidence level that the user is not in danger."
That sounds plausible, but we're not sure if it makes us feel more secure or less.