National IDs and Passports could be replaced by brainwaves based passwords in not so many years

The idea that brainwaves should be used in place of passwords is not new. In September 2013 we reported of a brain wave research intended for drivers and pilots; a system that would continuously authenticate them as the valid pilots or drivers to prevent hijacking. Even earlier, Julie Thorpe, a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa was already working on electroencephalogram (EEG) hardware meant to allow people to pass their thoughts as passwords to computers in order to unlock them.

“A user would simply think their password,” “Everyone’s brainwave signal is a bit different even when they think about the same thing. They’re unique just like fingerprints,” Ms Thorpe explained.

The one thing that passthoughts (the thought based passwords) are superior in is in the fact that they can’t be accessed by hackers same way the other biometric authentication methods like those that rely on Iris or fingerprints can be accessed. “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” are unique” wrote Daily Times when reporting about the work of Ms. Thorpe.

Assuming that your name is your password, even if I knew it, me thinking about your name will not generate the same brainwave patterns as when you are the one thinking about your name. Meaning, even if you were to tell me your password, I still wouldn’t be able to access your accounts. Actually, since the brainwave patterns are as distinct and unique as fingerprints, then the idea that everyone on earth has the same password would just be okay.

Also read: How a Message was emailed between Two Brains

In 2013, ExtremeTech published an article about the progress of brainwaves based passwords by Berkeley researchers. The Berkeley researchers used a $100 EEG that resembled a Bluetooth headset to recreate heuristic patterns imaged from participant’s thoughts as the participants executed various activities, including thinking about some “secrets” like favorite songs.

The methodology used by the Berkeley researchers was successful 99% of the time, but other than the fact that the EEG used was both expensive and bulky, the set of activities used to map the brainwave patterns was difficult to replicate for the same individual over time.

Yesterday, ExtremeTech reported once again of a breakthrough by another team of researchers lead by Blair Armstrong from Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language in Spain who reported a 94% success rate after asking 45 individuals to silently read through a list of Acronyms like DVD and FBI. The idea of reading through familiar acronyms was based on the fact that “word meanings are often more “set in stone” in the brain than isolated memories, such as when a person trips and falls on a hard surface, or sprains an ankle sliding into first base in a college baseball game”, explained ExtremeTech.

Once the EEG necessary to interpret the brainwaves as distinct patterns are miniaturized and aesthetically developed, and the success of distinguishing individuals using the brainwaves reaches somewhere around 99.99%, then an organization could easily implement that passthought as the standard authentication system without fear of breaches.

For example, when you walk through the main gate, all you will be needed to think about will be something like your birthday. The EEG system at the gate would read the pattern generated by your brainwaves at the instant of thinking about the birthday, recognize the specific pattern, and after searching the database it will be able to identify you. Although your birthday could be a publicly available information, any other person who thinks of the date will generate a completely different brainwave pattern. Currently, if your password is your birthday, then someone can guess and type it as it is and gain access to your bank account, Facebook or Gmail. But with brainwaves based password, the special words (can be a password) for generating the specific brainwave patterns can then be considered as the current username.

If brainwaves based passwords go mainstream, then in the near future they would replace the standard International, national and institutional identification systems like Passwords, National ID cards, and Work/College ID cards. During registration as a citizen, for instance, you will be needed to provide all the identify information such as your age, place of birth, place of residence, etc, then these information are encrypted with your brainwaves patterns as you think through a specified set of acronyms or objects.

Once registered, you will not be required to produce your ID whenever you visit some government building or institution; all you will be needed to do is think of that secret/sacred object and the EEG system would identify you. If the brainwaves based passwords identification database is accessible globally, then there will be no need for travel documents like passports.

Coming to think of it, it seems the brainwaves based passwords would deal with crime and terrorism more effectively. Currently the identification documents like national IDs and passports can be forged or obtained illegitimately. Also, a criminal or a terrorist can easily use another person’s identification documents without much trouble. But since there will practically be no way to forge someone else’s brainwaves pattern, it would be close to impossible to assume another person’s identity.

Also read: Facebook should use IDs to register users

Organizations that rely on production of IDs to feel secure would also save themselves a lot of trouble simply by installing the EEG at appropriate points to authenticate whoever visits them.

Questions we can ask ourselves at this point are: 1. Will the EEG systems be hackable? Will our brains we hacked and patterns changed in some way?


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