A recent Apple patent and a strongly worded report from the National Research Council suggest that the future of biometrics lies with personalization, not security.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week granted Apple a patent for biometric-sensor handheld devices that recognize a user by the image of his or her hand. In the not-too-distant future, anyone in the house could pick up an iOS device—or a remote control or camera—and have personalized settings queued up just for them.
The patent (which Apple first applied for in 2005) protects handheld devices with one or more "touch sensors"—buttons, touchscreens or other interfaces—on any of the device's surfaces. These sensors can take a pixelized image of a user's hand, match it to a corresponding image on file, and configure the device's software and user profile accordingly.
It’s a very different use of biometrics than we’ve seen in the movies. Hand and retina scanners have been touted for years as a futuristic gatekeepers to high-security buildings. This is usually a much-embellished version of their real-world use by businesses and government agencies for whom secrecy is a big deal. In the wider world, tiny fingerprint scanners have been built into laptops, but they aren’t widely used for the simple reason that they don’t work reliably enough.
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