‘Brainprint’: a more efficient method for checking the identity of fingerprints or biometrics

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The BasqueCenter on Cognition, Brainand Language of Sant Sebastian, along with Binghamton University of the United States, are developing biometric technology based on brainprint, scanning cerebral reactions to certain stimulation (reading words or observing photographs). The scanner involves electrodes placed on the head which record different connected reactions in the shape of cerebral waves, which, apparently, are unique to each individual.

In May 2015, research centres working together published an article in the magazine Neurocomputing stating that a study involving 32 individuals who had taken part in tests had shown a precise 97% success rate. During this phase, their reaction to acronyms such as DVD or FBI had been tested as was a series of half-second images (for example, a piece of pizza, a boat or the actress Anne Hathaway).

However, in an interview given a few months later to an on-line University of Binghamton publication, a project coordinator, Professor ZhapengJin, stated that a 100% rate had been achieved. According to the professor, this increase is due to the fact that successive tests had focused on non-volitional parts of the brain and not on those involved in active thought, which are less stable than learning and experience processors.

This method is presented as a safer alternative than those used to identify individuals, because, despite the accuracy of fingerprint analysis (which, according to a study by the North American National Academy of Sciences is 99,8%), police and security teams have detected a series of cases which make it possible to supplant an identity. An example given by Professor Jin, illustrative although extreme, is to use a person’s cut finger rather than one’s own identity. The possibility of creating moulds based on another person’s print on an object has also been highlighted. Iris scanners, according to the study, have a similar problem. In any case, a person can be obliged to identify him / herself. As far as the brain scanner is concerned, a person’s identity cannot be compromised in such a way, because forcing the situation at “gunpoint” would lead to a level of stress which could alter brain capacity.

The obvious problem posed by brainprint at the moment is the need to have headwear with electrodes as its everyday use causes difficulties due to expense and a lack of availability. For this very reason, and given the stage of development of such technology, it is not suitable as an identifier at cash dispensers or to release a mobile phone, for example. The medium-term recommendation is to use brainprint as a checker at high-risk security controls, such as military centres, centres of intelligence or nuclear power plants.

  1. You can consult the study of the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language and Binghamton University published in the magazine
  2. The interview with Professor ZhapengJin is available on the University of Binghamton webpage.
  3. You can also read about the study about the use of fingerprints carried out in 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States: Accuracy and reliability of forensic latent fingerprint decisions

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