The proliferation of biometrics

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about trends in biometric security devices and when the technology could potentially reach the tipping point for the mass security market. Bojan Cukic, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at West Virginia University and site director for the Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR) at WVU, believes that it is still unclear whether or not biometric solutions will replace traditional access control systems in many applications. However, Cukic does feel that biometric technology will become more commonplace in the future.

"I honestly feel in five or 10 years, we will not be talking about biometrics because it will be ubiquitous," he said. "It will be part of systems and applications which we use every day and we may or may not be aware that it is improving the security of these systems. Computers will monitor our activities and when they become unusual, they will warn us or warn the administrator about it."

Another interesting point made by Cukic during our conversation was the fact that current biometric security systems rely upon users providing a biometric identifier - be it a fingerprint or an iris scan – to get a quality read. The inherent flaw in this approach, according to Cukic, is that people nowadays are not accustomed to spending time cooperating with technology and that future systems may be able to pick out the best identifier on its own, a process he referred to as "unconstrained acquisition."

That ability could be here sooner rather than later as researchers at the University of Calgary recently announced that they have developed a way for security systems to combine different biometrics. According to a statement, this new algorithm, which was created at the university’s Biometrics Technology Laboratory, can "learn new biometric patterns and associate data from different data sets, allowing system to combine information, such as fingerprint, voice, gait or facial features, instead of relying on a single set of measurements."

Professor Marina Gavrilova, the founding head of the lab, said the security system they developed simulates the decision making processes of the human brain.

"Our goal is to improve accuracy and as a result improve the recognition process," Gavrilova said in the statement. "We looked at it not just as a mathematical algorithm, but as an intelligent decision making process and the way a person will make a decision."

However, the use of biometrics has raised concerns from privacy advocates. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has announced plans to hold a hearing next week on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology. Social media giant Facebook, which recently purchased facial recognition firm Face.com, has also come under fire for using face-detection technology for photo-tagging.

While I still think we are quite a long way from the future world depicted in the film "Minority Report" where advertisers can scan our eyes to deliver targeted marketing campaigns or police can use tiny, iris-scanning robots to determine our identity, I believe that widespread use of biometrics on a smaller level is close at hand. Whether it’s using facial recognition to tag photos or placing a finger on a reader to gain access to a laptop computer, biometric technology for security and recreational uses appears to be here to stay.

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