Showing posts with label biometrics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biometrics. Show all posts

Do Androids Dream On Electric Pillows? Because Now, You Can...

“Smart” devices pervade our culture, giving everything from your car to your medicine cabinet a mind of its own.  Now, even when your own mind is shut off for the night, a smart device can be there to keep you informed of your sleep stats.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is totally not a joke.  Meet the smart pillow.

If you like death metal and your partner likes dubstep,
now you can both snooze to your own tunes!
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Ingrained In The Brain: New "Brainprints" Security Metric Proven 100% Accurate

We've all seen a spy movie where someone's fingerprint-scan is needed to access an important area, and they end up forced to scan in at gunpoint, or simply having their finger lopped off to fulfill the invaders' needs.  And even retinal scans could possibly be faked with the right medical information and digital technology.  However, the latest security is key is stashed somewhere very safe:  inside your skull.

When your brain is your password, is your cap the Caps Lock?
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Tracked In The Sack: New High-Tech Wristwatch Delivers Your Sexual Stats

Technology has the amazing ability to provide us with abundant, seemingly boundless amounts of information.  Sometimes, that also includes too much information.

"Hey baby...set me to LOVE MODE."
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Fetching Fido: Canine Facial Recognition App Helps Find Lost Dogs

Not all facial recognition systems are for spying on you, or for ratting you out when you don't go to church.  Sometimes, just sometimes, the system can be of use.  Particularly, when it doesn't focus on people...

"Don't worry, ma'am.  We'll find him.  If not by sniff, then the internet."
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Who Would Jesus Watch? New Facial Recognition Software Tracks Church Attendance

Oh, god.  As if it weren't "bad" enough in the eyes of The Most High that your lapsed morals caused you to skip church on Sunday to be a brunch-munching heathen or false-idolater football fan, now you've also been computer.

The lord doesn't always work in mysterious ways...sometimes it's just computers and cameras.
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E-Emotional Rescue: Computer Programs That Deal In Your Feelings

Experts say that your computer is a better judge of your personality than even your closest family and friends.  It knows your preferences, correspondents, written words, tastes in imagery, secrets kept and deleted, and more.  But what happens in the possibly-near future when machines begin using all of this information to actually UNDERSTAND you?

When it comes to emotional intelligence and your computer, what constitutes too much information?
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According to the New Yorker, this may be happening more quickly than we expect.  Computers can already attempt to determine moods from vocal pitch and intensity, while simultaneously analyzing any attendant videos for evidence of micro-expressions or gestures that could reveal even more about an interaction.  Even the placement of words in a sentence can be taken to imply other things, indicating how angry, passionate, or spectacularly talented certain authors are.  Now, computers can not only be aware of these elements, but use them to temper their own responses or advice.

Rana el Kaliouby, an Egyptian scientist who runs the Boston-based company Affectiva, is on the forefront of this mecha-emotional leap.  Affectiva's most prominent software, Affdex, is trained to recognize four major emotions:  happy, confused, surprised, and disgusted.  Breaking down the user's face-image into deformable and non-deformable points, the software analyzes how far certain parts of one's face will move (such as a smile or frown raising or lowering the corners of the mouth) in relation to other set points on the face (such as the tip of the nose.)  Things like skin texture (where wrinkles appear, or not) also factor in.  These metrics are analyzed into computing what you feel.

Based off the research of 1960s scientist Paul Ekman, the idea behind this technology stems from a simple, universal concept:  all humans, regardless of race, gender, age or language barriers, have at least six specific facial expressions that register particular emotions.  Ekman broke these expressions down into their constituent movements and wrote a 500-page epic called FACS (Facial Action Coding System) on the subject.  The work has been considered the preeminent treatise on this topic for decades now.

Other companies are on the e-emotional bandwagon too, with names like Emotient, Realeyes, and Sension.  Companies who rely on videoconferencing could now have a useful extra line on what their clients and associates are thinking.  Emotions, which have been found to be closely neurologically related to decision-making and common sense, now can be deduced from faces and choices with a degree of accuracy that seems like mind-reading.

We're less unique than anyone thinks.
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While useful (and now predominantly operational) in business, Kaliouby also spent time researching if this specific recognizance could act as an "emotional hearing aid" for those with autism.  The National Science Foundation offered Kaliouby and her mentor nearly a million dollars to develop this idea.  This proved successful, but the idea was almost immediately extrapolated by businesses from Pepsi to Toyota in the interest of learning more about their consumers' preferences.  These requests overwhelmed the scientists, leading to the creation of Affectiva.  The company, which claims to have refused requests to use the software for espionage (corporate and personal), wanted to generate revenue from investors to augment their autism-relating research.

Thus Affdex began testing users' response to advertisements, giving the promotions industry a leg up on what consumers would be feeling when exposed to their sales pleas.  More than two million videos from eighty countries lent the program an unprecedented amount of information, all adding up to more accuracy in prediction from the program.  Affectiva now deals in these negotiations and improvements full-time.  In coming years, with more "smart" devices and internet-enabled items out there for our interaction, emotional electronics could use their ever-increasing knowledge to hopefully make our lives better.

These programs have our attention, which is a valuable resource.  Now, can that be used to hold our interest, connect us more completely, and/or improve our circumstances (even just by knowing we need the room temperature raised a little?)  Or will it simply serve as another metric to keep tabs on a passive populace?  Will we have the right to know when and where we are being emotionally analyzed, and will we be able to thwart such advances if desired?  Kaliouby maintains that there must be an overall altruistic tilt to the usage of the program, explaining to various advertisers that, “In our space, you could very easily be perceived as Big Brother, as opposed to the gatekeeper of your own emotional data—and it is two very different positions. If we are not careful, we can very easily end up on the Big Brother side.”

Whether we'll end up selling our attention to gain happiness points to sell for more happiness remains uncertain.  But the fact remains that the market for your emotions is vast and lucrative.  Companies will want to know you're happy if it makes them feel they're doing something right.  Other more insidious organizations may be tickled to learn that you're feeling deeply unsettled and on edge (right where some of them want you.)  Will the future be made of humans wearing constant poker faces, lest we be called out by computers?  Will there be surcharges for extra super-sized doses of happiness from certain places or products?  Or should we maybe turn the lens in on ourselves, and understand the nature of our own feelings, before we release them into the wild to be tagged and tracked...or hunted?

And remember, all of this information is taken from imagery alone.  We're not even really "plugged in" yet...
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WikiLeaks Publishes CIA Travel Tips: Nervous Travelers Beware

With the holiday travel season in full swing, millions of people around the country and the world are taking to the highways, railways and the skies to visit friends and family (or to escape them!) far and wide. Of course, the romantic notion of the old fashioned family Christmas pilgrimage was long ago replaced by the stresses and strains of modern travel: endless traffic, train and plane delays, and security protocols that border on the absurd. Fortunately for the frantic traveler, Wikileaks has just published two previously secret CIA documents detailing the spy agency’s advice to operatives on how to survive the airport security screening process.

The leaked documents have been put online as part of the anti-secrecy organization’s ongoing “CIA Series,” which is planned to continue into the new year, according to a press release. The two CIA documents published yesterday provide insight on how the spy organization trains agents to navigate the heightened airport security protocols that we have all come to know and love over the last 15 years. The first provides an overview on how to survive the "secondary screening" process in general, while the second provides pointers on how to pass airport security specifically when infiltrating the European Union.

Anyone who's ever traveled at all is familiar with the primary screening process. (If you're not, consider watching this George Carlin bit for a quick overview.) You wait in a series of lines, provide your boarding pass and ID to the relevant official, proceed through the new-fangled Rapiscan nude scanners and so on. A subset of passengers are then taken aside for secondary screening either because of flags raised during the primary screening process, or because they have been selected for random secondary screening.

However, the CIA writes: "Travelers can minimize the possibility of secondary by knowing how to prepare for and navigate the primary inspection and by avoiding to the extent possible the various triggers for secondary." Among these triggers, the document lists: possession of contraband (including weapons, drugs and electronics), irregularities with official identification documents, suspicious behavior (nervousness, anxiety), baggage (with contents that are inconsistent with the passenger's appearance, profession, ticket class, stated reason for travel and so on), country of origin, suspicious past travel patterns, and so on. The agency also notes the following factoids:
  • Inspectors focus on body language.
  • Travelers can legally be held in secondary screening for hours.
  • Officials may telephone travelers' contacts to verify their stories.
  • Officials can access national and international databases on the internet.
  • Officials can collect additional biographic data and biometrics.
  • Officials can examine belongings.
  • Officials can copy or confiscate a traveler's personal electronics.
Read the rest for some interesting anecdotes from airports around the world. The report concludes with some common sense advice: "Consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover is important for avoiding secondary selection and critical for surviving it. A frequent operational CIA traveler to Asia and Europe advises that the most effective prevention of secondary is to have simple and plausible answers to the two most frequently asked questions, “Why are you here,” and “Where are you staying.” Travelers should  also ensure before traveling that everything that offials can use to examine their bona fides—passports, travel history, baggage,  personal electronics, pocket litter, hotel reservations, Web presence—is consistent with" your official reason for travel.

Score Scorchy Selfies With New Thermal-Imaging Smartphone Camera

What new photo tool brings the real hotness for your smartphone?  Literally?  How about your own personal thermal imaging camera?

According to, the Seek Thermal Imaging Camera is a new iPhone and Android-operable device that turns your smartphone into something like you'd spot in a cool spy movie.  Thermal imaging cameras, which use infrared technology to sense the presence of heat, make any temperature-producing item visible, regardless of lighting conditions.  Ninjas hiding in your house at night?  Not anymore, you spotted them with Seek!

Your evil black cat may resent his fresh lack of hiding skills.
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The Seek can detect heat signatures at up to 1,000 feet, recognize more resolutely at 250 feet, and identify specifics at 150 feet.  As their product description explains, "Our eyes rely on light to see, Seek Thermal relies on heat."  It has a spectrum from -40 degrees to 330 degrees Celsius, so you can just as easily determine if your drink is acceptably ice-cold as you can gauge how well-done your burgers are.

Your pet penguins can be kept suitably chill thanks to infrared analysis.
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For $199, the 8-ounce, micro-USB-enabled Seek can capture all the hotness (or coolness) around you.  It's the same technology that NASA uses to spot space phenomena, surely you too can come up with some interesting experiments!  Besides, wasn't that sepia filter starting to get boring anyway?

AAHHHH, FLAMETHROWER ATTACK!  Oh no, just a hairdryer in infrared.
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All Ears: New "Smart Earrings" Indicate Your Bio-stats

Earrings are not just for ornamentation anymore.  Thanks to a new invention called the Ear-O-Smart, your earlobes will be able to feed information to your brain lobes.

According to, the jewelry-esque devices can monitor your heart rate, calorie burn, and overall activity level.  The dime-sized multifaceted white earrings interact with your smart phone to casually keep you posted about your fitness stats throughout the day.

The device, which is currently seeking funding on kickstarter, promises to help you "make healthy choices" thanks to its feedback.  Could a line of intelligent jewelry be fancy in the future?

It's only a matter of time before you can plug into your brain via gauged plugs.
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Steal Your Face: The FBI Is Storing Your Dimensions, Fearing Criminal Intentions

If you value your privacy, you may want to stock up on extra Halloween masks this season. The FBI has recently announced its state-of-the-art new facial recognition system, and it is creepier than any macabre mask a citizen can don.

According to, six years of development and a billion dollars of taxpayer money have led to this biometric facial recognition software system. If you're getting a visa, going to prison, or otherwise being photographed by any grabby arm of the government, your identifying facial dimensions are sure going in there. It's called the Next Generation Identification program, and you are getting forced into this future.

But why stop at the shape of your skull and surrounding tissues? They did spend a BILLION of your dollars, after all! Scars, tattoos, fingerprints and other major identifying characteristics will also be included in your (totally safe and secure, we're sure) recognition profile. This shared database, known as the Interstate Photo System, is only going to get more insidious as ubiquitous surveillance camera resolutions improve.

The FBI, of course, loves their new toy. They were proud to report, "Since phase one was deployed in February 2011, the NGI system has introduced enhanced automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, mobile fingerprint identification, and electronic image storage, all while adding enhanced processing speed and automation for electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

It wouldn't be surprising if ninja-style outfits of obscurity became fashionable in the next few years...

So by FBI logic, the best masks are now the ones with no facial characteristics whatsoever.

FBI to Expand Facial Recognition Photo Database

From the EFF:
New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.
EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.

NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.

The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day . . .
In order to avoid the prying eyes of government pervs, you might want to consider a new look, such as those being developed by Adam Harvey, who is seeking to "create a growing catalog of designs and techniques that can be employed as camouflage against face detection."

iPhone Fingerprint ID: More Trouble Than It's Worth?

If you believe the security pronouncements of any of the giant tech firms, please leave your information in the comments, I have a bridge to sell you.  Of course, the mainstream media are not nearly so skeptical.  Indeed, they're eating it up.  From Bloomberg:
Apple’s use of fingerprint scanning in its new iPhone models could lead more device makers to adopt the authentication method as a successor to passwords - - and that’s fine with privacy advocates.

The introduction coincides with the rise of cybercrime and revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency has intercepted Internet communications and cracked encryption codes on devices including the iPhone.

Apple said that on the new iPhone, information about the fingerprint is stored on the device and not uploaded to company networks -- meaning it wouldn’t be in data batches that may be sent to or collected by U.S. intelligence agencies under court orders.

“They’re not building some vast biometric database with your identity associated with your fingerprint that the NSA could then get access to,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall . . . .
That latter quote is rather funny, as governments and corporations routinely deny that they are building vast databases on us as they build vast databases on us.  Wired is a bit more circumspect:
There’s a lot of talk around biometric authentication since Apple introduced its newest iPhone, which will let users unlock their device with a fingerprint. Given Apple’s industry-leading position, it’s probably not a far stretch to expect this kind of authentication to take off. Some even argue that Apple’s move is a death knell for authenticators based on what a user knows (like passwords and PIN numbers).
While there’s a great deal of discussion around the pros and cons of fingerprint authentication — from the hackability of the technique to the reliability of readers — no one’s focusing on the legal effects of moving from PINs to fingerprints.
Because the constitutional protection of the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” may not apply when it comes to biometric-based fingerprints . . .