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Photonics Gets Personal

Photonics Spectra
Dec 1999
Biometrics could personalize the room you enter, adjust your car seat and keep your grandson from calling Moon-Base Delta on his sister's cell phone.

Daniel C. McCarthy, Senior News Editor

The last time the millennial clock rolled over, the only individuals that required some stamp of personal identification sat on thrones. Signet rings and hot wax made a simple task of identifying the agents of a king and verifying official business.

But even today, where any card-waving customer is king, the problem remains of ensuring that the wielder of the card is its authorized user. Credit cards first incorporated holograms and then personal photographs, but such measures cannot prevent fraudulent use by someone possessing the card's number and a telephone connection. Nor do they simplify the life of people who must tote additional plastic to withdraw money, drive a vehicle, collect government benefits, save on groceries or gain access to a building. Nor do they reduce the number of personal identification numbers and passwords that are required to conduct daily life.

Security and convenience are precisely the solutions that biometrics can deliver to consumers by replacing cards and passwords with a digitally captured physical or behavioral characteristic that is stored for later automatic access. The feature can be any unique physical characteristic, including a fingerprint, the iris or facial structure.

These and other biometric techniques, such as voice recognition, have received substantial backing from companies in banking, finance and personal computers. Despite this, some experts have observed that consumer demand for the technology isn't there yet, and that people don't use the means of identification already at their service.

Rather than consumer markets, business and government could be the early adopters of the technology, because they have a financial incentive. Biometrics can also reduce administrative costs.


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