There are many intimate and unique bodily characteristics that can be used to accurately identify you. These biometric include your fingerprint, DNA, retina, even your voice. All of these signals, however, can be forged which can be a serious security risk if you’re running a tight-lip operation like, say, the Pentagon. There’s one biometric that might not be forgeable: your thoughts. In a breakthrough research, a team at Binghamton University showed that it’s possible to identify a person with 100 percent accuracy based on their response to a visual stimulus like the word “conundrum” or a picture showing a slice of pizza. We each devour pizza uniquely in our minds, it seems, and that’s enough to tell who you are or aren’t.
Previously, Sarah Laszlo and Zhanpeng Jin showed it was possible to identify a person out of a group of 32 people with 97 percent accuracy based on how their brains responded to words. Now, not only have they incorporated images, but also upped accuracy from only 97 to a full 100 percent. Considering the application they envision is high-level security clearance, that measly three percent makes all the difference in the world.
“When you take hundreds of these images, where every person is going to feel differently about each individual one, then you can be really accurate in identifying which person it was who looked at them just by their brain activity,” said Laszlo.
“If someone’s fingerprint is stolen, that person can’t just grow a new finger to replace the compromised fingerprint—the fingerprint for that person is compromised forever. Fingerprints are ‘non-cancellable.’ Brainprints, on the other hand, are potentially cancellable. So, in the unlikely event that attackers were actually able to steal a brainprint from an authorized user, the authorized user could then ‘reset’ their brainprint,” Laszlo said.
For the study, the researchers worked with 50 participants who wore an electroencephalogram headset which recorded brain wave responses to as many as 500 individual images.
“We tend to see the applications of this system as being more along the lines of high-security physical locations, like the Pentagon or Air Force Labs, where there aren’t that many users that are authorized to enter, and those users don’t need to constantly be authorizing the way that a consumer might need to authorize into their phone or computer,” Jin said.
But is this really unforgeable? There’s nothing that can’t be hacked, they say — it just might take a long time. Hacking someone’s brainwaves, now that’s some serious food for thought. I also have a personal dilemma. Neuroscientists seem to unanimously agree that the brain is plastic, so brain wave response to certain stimuli will change in time and with experience. Your response to pizza might differ ten years from now. In a way, as each moment passes I’m a different person, but inherently physical characteristics like fingerprints and DNA stay the same, which is why they’re so reliable as biometrics.