Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Your Thoughts Are Your Password

By Aussiegirl

Well, I can relax, the machine that can read my thoughts is still on the drawing board. But it would be nice to turn on the TV by just thinking "TURN ON". Still, it all sounds like a scary sci-fi novel!

Wired News: Your Thoughts Are Your Password

Your Thoughts Are Your Password
By Lakshmi Sandhana

What if you could one day unlock your door or access your bank account by simply "thinking" your password? Too far out? Perhaps not.

Researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, are exploring the possibility of a biometric security device that will use a person's thoughts to authenticate her or his identity.

Their idea of utilizing brain-wave signatures as "pass-thoughts" is based on the premise that brain waves are unique to each individual. Even when thinking of the same thing, the brain's measurable electrical impulses vary slightly from person to person. Some researchers believe the difference might just be enough to create a system that allows you to log in with your thoughts.

A pass-thought could be anything from a snatch of song, the memory of your last birthday or even the image of your favorite painting. A more achievable alternative might present you with predetermined pictures, music or video clips, to which you would think "yes" or "no" while the machine monitors your brain activity. [....]

The research is an outgrowth of efforts to build a brain-computer interface, or BCI, by trying to extract the meaningful parts of brain-wave signals measured by an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and translate them into recognizable computer commands that allow disabled people to control and manipulate prosthetic devices. A chief challenge facing BCI technology is that brain-wave signatures are unique, so a system trained to recognize a particular user can be quite difficult for another to manipulate. [....]

However, some researchers are skeptical that a computer will ever be able to
passively recognize a particular mental image in a person's head.

Iead Rezek, of the Pattern Analysis Research Group at the University of Oxford, says the proposal has "flair," but is impractical: Too many things are going on in the brain at the cellular level that all look the same from a scalp distance. "Signals from an uncountable number of nerve cells are smeared and lumped together by the time we are recording the brain-wave patterns," says Rezek. "Authentication is akin to recognizing speakers from muffled voices because, for example, the speakers are some distance away."

Even if recognizable readings could be taken, "the link between thought and brain waves is immensely indirect," says Jacques Vidal, a BCI expert and professor with UCLA's computer science department.

Moreover, the way we remember things evolves. It may not be possible to design a system that can passively recognize the changing signature of the same thought by the same individual over time. [....]

"The technology to remotely measure brain activity is in its infancy," says Shadmehr. "Yet if we consider that it was only 40 years ago that neuroscientists developed robust single-brain-cell recording techniques in awake, behaving animals, the future for sensing brain activity is very bright indeed."

But don't throw out your passwords yet, warns the more-reserved Somayaji. "I'd be surprised and impressed if a pass-thought system was deployed in 20 years," Somayaji says. "Maybe pass-thoughts will make the transition from science fiction to science fact one day. For now, though, they're still very much science fiction."


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