Imagine a future in which humans have evolved into incorporeal blobs of consciousness without the need for bodies. Sounds pretty good, right? No more pain, hunger, or death. There’s just one thing, though: how will we tell each other apart? Well, a team of researchers from Binghamton University may have the answer, thanks to a new technique that can identify people with 100 percent accuracy just by looking at their brainwaves.
In our current, primitive form, fleshy features like faces help us recognize the people we know, while also enabling more official forms of visceral identification via fingerprints and retinal scans. However, the new technique – known as the CEREBRE (Cognitive Event RElated Biometric REcognition) Protocol – could one day allow people to simply think their way past security checkpoints or onto nightclub guestlists.
“We imagine the applications for this technology being for high-security situations, like ensuring the person going into the Pentagon or the nuclear launch bay is the right person,” explained lead researcher Sarah Laszlo from Binghamton University, New York, in a statement.
Given the level of damage that could be done should the wrong people gain access to these sorts of facilities, it’s vital that the identification technology used is foolproof and infallible. However, previous attempts to identify people by their brain activity have only been able to achieve a maximum of 97 percent accuracy, which simply isn’t good enough.
The reason for this is that these techniques have tended to focus on an ongoing, continuous brain signal called the electroencephalogram (EEG), which provides an indication of a person’s baseline mental activity over a period of time. A major drawback of this signal is that it can vary depending on the cognitive state of that person, so it isn’t really constant enough to provide a reliable I.D.
However, in a new study in the journal IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, Laszlo and her colleagues explain how they were able to use a different type of brain signal called the event-related potential (ERP) to identify people with absolute reliability.
ERPs are short-term signals produced when the brain responds to a specific event or stimulus. Given that each person has a unique set of tastes and preferences, we don’t all respond to these stimuli in the same way. Therefore, by observing how the brains of 50 volunteers reacted to a range of different images, the study authors were able to create a profile for each individual, later using these to accurately identify them based on their ERPs.
To do this, they showed each participant a series of 400 pictures, split into 5 categories that had been specifically chosen in order to elicit a highly personal brain response. For instance, when viewing pictures of food or celebrities, the brain of each participant generated a unique ERP depending on that person’s taste and affinity for what – or who – they were looking at.
Once they had collected sufficient data from each participant, the researchers found that they could reliably identify each of them just by studying the ERPs generated by their brains when looking at these pictures.
Aside from revealing how predictable we all are, the results of this study could one day find a number of real-world applications, ranging from new mechanisms for unlocking phones to the creation of “mental I.D. cards.” It could also be the first step towards our utopian bodiless future – which is great news for everyone, except fashion designers.