June 7, 2018

I know not whence I came,
I know not whither I go;
But the fact stands clear that I am here
In this world of pleasure and woe.
And out of the mist and murk
Another truth shines plain –
It is my power each day and hour
To add to its joy or its pain.
--“I am” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox 

Humans are made up of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen and our DNA encodes our genetic characteristics.1  Our heritage and upbringing, values and beliefs, and people we associate with influence who we are and how others see us.  How we define our identity can be a complex and sometimes existential matter, but stunning technology advances are answering this question in new dramatic ways.

Our Smartphones, Ourselves?

Few people leave home without their smartphone. When first introduced, we took our phones with us primarily so we could communicate on the go.  And while that still holds true, today’s world is so hyper-connected that our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves -- understanding who we are, what we want, when we want it, how we want it done and predicting our next move.2

To access our phones, many of us use our fingerprints.  We scan digital ticket codes to gain entry to concerts, sports events, planes, trains, ride shares and rental cars.  We surf the web, shop, make purchases and bank, view and listen to news and entertainment, engage in social media, get directions and monitor traffic; store names, addresses, videos, photos and data for all our personal and business contacts.  We track our steps, heart rate and sleep patterns, food we eat and calories burned. Our lives are entwined in our devices, and these activities generate massive amounts of data that in turn create vast digital imprints increasingly tied to our identity.

As participants transacting in a digitally transforming culture, our primary way of protecting these identities is by using seemingly secure passwords ... that we lose, forget, and have to change, again and again. It’s no wonder studies show that remembering and changing passwords is a top source of cybersecurity fatigue, and major vulnerability that hackers are all too willing to exploit.3  I personally will celebrate the day I can navigate the world password-free.  I know it seems implausible, but that day is closer than you might think.

Fast Forward and Face First

IDC predicts that by 2021, 50 percent of online ticket transactions will use biometric authentication such as fingerprints, hand or finger shapes, irises or retinas, vein patterns or the shape of the face.4   What’s more, Gartner predicts that behavioral biometrics – data and machine learning to recognize and authenticate a user’s identity based on, for example, the patterns of keystrokes on a phone, tablet or how a mouse is used -- will replace passwords by 2022.5

The measurement of unique patterns is not new, and goes back to the 1860s. Telegraph operators recognized each other by the way they would send dash and dot signals. During World War II, allied forces used the same method to identify senders and authentication messages they received.6 Today, smartphones can capture and learn a user's behavior, such as patterns when they walk, swipe, apply pressure to the phone, scroll and type, without the need for passwords or active authentications.  Soon it will simply be our unique movements or smiles that prove we are who we are.

A True You = a Biometric You

I am not the only one who is receptive and ready for a post-password, biometrics-driven authentication and identification universe.  U.S. consumers say they would trust their bank (65 percent) and their credit/debit card network (54 percent) to store biometric data.7 More than 75 percent said they would be willing to use fingerprint and facial recognition scanners at stop-points to simplify their travel -- to streamline customs and immigration (85 percent), and to clear security without the use of other identification (85 percent).8

A recent New York Times article notes that U.S. military and intelligence agencies have used facial recognition tools for years in overseas conflicts to identify possible terrorist suspects and domestic law enforcement agencies are increasingly using the technology at home for more routine forms of policing. Arenas are using it to screen for known troublemakers at events, while the Department of Homeland Security is using it to identify foreign visitors who overstay their visas at airports. And in China, facial recognition is ubiquitous, used to identify customers in stores and single out jaywalkers.9

Can you Identify?

Alas, like so many technological transformations, biometric identities will not be mainstream overnight.  Privacy advocates have concerns about how our images and data may be used because standards, laws and guidelines are yet to be implemented.  While quite advanced, biometric technologies are not infallible; they are developed by people who, by our very nature, may have unconscious biases that impact how we perceive others, and these unintentional biases can inevitably be embedded into the technology.

Nevertheless, we are moving toward a future where, perhaps, our individual biometrics are confidentially filed in and accessed from a national identity database.  Instead of passwords to verify our identity, we pose, and the answer to that existential question of what makes us who we are is, well, self-explanatory.



1-     https://sciencing.com/importance-dna-human-cell-19447.html

2-     https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3842564

3-     https://thycotic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/BlackHa_Hacker_Survey_Report_2017.pdf

4-      http://bit.ly/2wHOAdW

5-      https://gtnr.it/2GdV57T

6-     https://www.gemalto.com/financial/inspired/behavioral-biometrics

7-     https://usa.visa.com/dam/VCOM/global/visa-everywhere/documents/visa-biometrics-payments-study.pdf

8-     https://www.tnooz.com/article/oag-air-travel-technology/

9-     https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/technology/amazon-facial-recognition.html


Posted By

Allyne Mills

Allyne Mills


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