You’ve heard of the Muse Headband, or perhaps the Neurosky Mindwave; devices that measure your brainwaves? Well as it happens, researchers at UC Berkley are using the technology to pioneer and new and revolutionary concept: passthoughts! Whereas accessing your computer, tablet or smartphone now is a matter of typing passwords on a (sometimes terribly small) keyboard, in the future it could be as easy as putting on a band and thinking.
Basically, the concept calls for the use of a mind-reading headband as a biometric identifier. Much like a person’s DNA or the blood vessels in their retina are specific to that individual, brainwaves also seem to be unique and can be used to identify them. An especially useful fact, if you want to log into a computer or otherwise prove your identity. Unlike passwords, credit card info or social security numbers, brainwaves cannot be stolen or faked… yet!
To do this, the Berkeley researchers used a $100 commercial EEG (electroencephalogram), in this case the Neurosky. This device resembles a Bluetooth headset, with the slight difference of it having a single electrode that rests on your forehead and measures your brainwaves. These are then transmitted via a Bluetooth to a nearby computer. Much like a clinical EEG, the system has an error rate of less than 1%, but requires a single electrode instead of between 32 and 256.
To develop the brain-biometric process, participants were asked to complete seven different tasks with the EEG equipped. Three of the tasks were generic, requiring the participants to focus on breathing in and out, imagine moving their finger up and down, and listening for an audio tone. The other four tasks required participants to focus on an individual/personalized secret, such as singing a song of their choice, or performing a repetitive action.
While performing these tasks, their brainwaves were monitored for heuristic patterns. And as it turns out, all seven tasks — even just sitting there and focusing on your own breathing — provided enough information to authenticate the subjects identity. So when it comes right down to it, this means of identifying oneself works effectively, and eliminates the need for passwords and could provide another layer of identity protection. All for the onetime price of $100.
But of course, there are some issues. For one, the bulk and unaesthetic nature of the EEG and the accuracy of the system, but these are both remediable. As it stands, no one would really want to wear a Neurosky EEG in public, but if the electrode were concealable – say, within a Bluetooth headset – this wouldn’t be a problem. As it stand, accuracy is the far more important issue. While a 99% accuracy rate is good, it is not good enough for serious and possibly security-based applications.
But looking forward, it is not hard to imagine that the accuracy of the system will increase, as EEG hardware and biometric algorithms improve in quality. It is also very easy to imagine smartphones that can identify their users through their brainwaves, provided they are wearing a Bluetooth headset with an EEG equipped. In addition, computers that come equipped with headbands so people can log in and start working simply by sitting down and issuing the proper thoughts.
Thinking truly long-term, its not hard to imagine that the headband itself will be done away with in favor of a wireless EEG implanted underneath the skin. Much in the same way that these are allowing people to control robotic limbs, they may also allow us to log into computers, type documents, surf the net, and play video games with just our thoughts. Move over Xbox Connect! Here comes Xbox Thinx (patent pending!)