The Mother Of All Questions: How Do We Know Youre Really You?
By Ara C. Trembly
Has it ever occurred to you that life as we know it proceeds based on a series of assumptions that, I daresay, none of us tests against reality with any regularity?
For example, when you read this column, you assume that I have written it, because you see my name at the top and that devilishly handsome photo somewhere accompanying the text. But what does that prove?
After all (and I hope Im not dashing any fondly held dreams here) the late Ann Landers column (which also dispenses guru-like advice) is not written by her, unless she has found some way to communicate from beyond the grave. Yet we continue to see her name in print, and we see that vintage photo accompanying her columns in newspapers nationwide.
And while I can assure you–insofar as you believe its actually me assuring you–that I am indeed your one and only tech guru, theres really no way for you to know that for sure without visiting our offices and watching me as I work my guru-like magic. And thats assuming you trust your own perceptionsbut lets not go there.
When you come right down to it, the question is: How do we know–for sure–whom were dealing with in any context? In this era of terrorism, war and electronic pilfering, such a question assumes monumental importance. Fortunately, technology has an answer that, while not 100% foolproof, is about as close as we can get.
What were talking about here is biometrics, which is the use of unique biological features (fingerprints, handprints, iris patterns, voice patterns, retinal blood vessel patterns) to positively identify an individual.
For example, in the 1996 film classic “Barb Wire,” starring Pamela Anderson in the title role, Ms. Wire dons a specially doctored contact lens that “fools” a retinal scanner into identifying her as someone other than her estimable self. How Ms. Wire/Anderson escapes identification via other unique features is indeed a mystery, but it is one that need not concern us here.
In the more recent “Minority Report,” another futuristic film, star Tom Cruise goes even further–actually having his eyes replaced, by a backroom surgeon, with the eyes of another person. In that film, retinal scanners are everywhere, most notably in the form of devices that scan an individual and create personalized advertising for him or her on the spot (and you thought spam was a problem!).
In the real world, criminals have tried all sorts of methods, including the application of acid, to alter their fingerprints in order to avoid being identified and captured.
Such draconian measures aside, however, biometrics offers an accurate and reliable method of identifying individuals. In fact, Computerworld reports that the U.S. government has issued more than six million biometric border crossing cards, which have led to identification of some 250 impostors on the Canadian border.