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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
Experiments conducted by Dr Paul Fletcher of the UK's Institute of Neurology, London, have shown how it is possible to monitor the brain as it learns, revealing which parts are active as a memory is laid down. If the research is successful, brain scanners could, in the future be used to test the effectiveness of teaching methods by monitoring how children and other subjects memorise information.
Dr Fletcher has found association between areas that control awareness, located in the brain's frontal part, and the hippocampus, the activity of which is linked to memory. The technique, it is reported, will be used initially to detect early signs of dementia, which affects memory.
In the future, Dr Fletcher believes, it might be possible to gain enough knowledge about brain activity to show the process of learning and whether it was taking place efficiently.
New devices produced by IBM could soon make passports redundant. By introducing new scanners that can identify individuals from their hands, new technology will take over at all border controls. This innovation would be but one of many uses where these or similar devices could be employed, and biometrics will soon affect everyone.
Already the first devices are used at Bermuda airport and IBM expects to introduce them at airports around the world in the next few years. These devices are called hand-geometry scanners and they are the outcome of the advances in the science of biometrics. This is a subject that has been reported here frequently and involves methods whereby a person's biological characteristics, such as voice patterns, fingerprints, iris patterns etc., can be turned into digital data and then used as a means of identifying them precisely.
The incentive to work in this area comes from the need for security measures for banks, credit card companies and in applications where an individual has to be accurately determined. Many different methods have been researched and there is no doubt biometric devices will play an important part in our lives in the near future.
Already in the UK a database of iris scans that would enable an individual to be identified by their "eye prints" is being planned by British Telecom (BT), a leading communications company. In this application users could be authorised to receive cash or make telephone calls based on the iris-scan database. In Japan an American company is already providing such devices for use by a bank in securing access to its cash machines. In the USA, Keyware Technologies, from Boston, has developed a voice-recognition system which will allow PC users to make financial transactions on the Internet without the danger of interception and fraud.
In the USA, IBM has started to sell its Fastgate service to banks and other institutions that give credit or require confirmation of identity. The airlines in particular are regarded as potentially important customers. Customers of the IBM service simply enrol in the scheme and on arrival at an airport, for example, will identify themselves with a passport and a card swipe and a hand scan will be taken. These data are then stored in a computer and will be used for future identification. The next time that person arrives at that airport he or she will proffer their card and a hand for scanning. That will in itself be sufficient to identify them as someone who was acceptable to immigration officials on their last visit. They can then enter the country without any further formalities such as showing their passport.
The Head of IBM's Fastgate project believes we are on the brink of some very important developments. Currently Fasgate scanners survey the length and breadth of a person's hand and fingers, and the data obtained offer comprehensive information for identification.
BT believes iris recognition systems are even more accurate and has already invested a great deal of money on their systems. Tests for the systems have included military installations in the UK and the USA and also in entry systems to some top-secret establishments. Iris scanning is also used by the Japanese Bank OKI and Citibank in the USA, and plans to equip automated bank machines are well advanced. A camera inside the machine will record an image of the user's eye pattern and check their identity by transmitting the digitised image to a central database. The company has also developed a hand-held device that can be attached to ordinary telephones. This would eliminate the need for passwords and other identifying methods when banking and other services are being used. A great number of such varied uses are envisaged and obviously with these different biometric devices the biological characteristics chosen will vary according to the demands of the application. Provided that the characteristics can be turned into digitised data there appear to be no limits on their processing on modern computer systems. Much of this research and development received acclaim last year, but as is the case in current releases from companies about their technological innovations, actual implementation and product marketing is a slow process. In the real world revolutionary technological advances are not so readily accepted for immediate commercialisation. The decision to implement innovative systems or to market such products is becoming increasingly difficult. The ever present danger of yet another so-called innovation overtaking the current one means that great caution is now practised by most potential implementors.