Op-Ed: Scary, and proven — ‘Brainprints’ are unique for everyone

Posted Apr 20, 2016 by Paul Wallis
New studies have shown that human brains, like fingerprints, voices and facial characteristics, are unique, and identifiable. A computer has successfully identified 50 brains from checking samples of their reactions.
The Brainprint system creates  unhackable  brain scans to replace passwords
The Brainprint system creates 'unhackable' brain scans to replace passwords
Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University
The study by Binghamton University has found a way of identifying brains using ECG technologies to match a reaction to a particular stimulus, like pizza, a specific word, or a name. The basic theory is that each brain processes information in its own unique way.
Using 500 images from each person, each different brain was accurately identified. In previous studies, the brainprint reading by the computer was only 97 percent accurate. One of the possible uses of this technology is for security purposes — a brainprint can’t be stolen like other types of biometrics, and can even be reset by the brainprint owner, if hacked.
There’s a certain black humor in reporting this. The only subject raised, security, cuts both ways. Privacy isn’t a subject at this point. A brainprint can also be a positive identifier, like a voice print or other physical source. You can wear gloves to leave no fingerprints, hide your voice in a tuner, or hide your face in a mask or prostheses. You can’t hide your brainprint. (It’s a matter of opinion how long individual genetic identifiers will be off the list of ways of intruding on privacy, too.)
It fascinates me how science manages to ignore any risks to people in this kind of research. Apparently the idea of intrusion in to a very personal space, in any form, just isn’t an issue. Many researchers, in fact, seem to lack any interest in possible abuses of new science.
Imagine using brainprints in a totalitarian state, or for “covert” national security a la the conspiracy theories. Imagine a “secret government” creating a record of brainprints to use against its citizens. Imagine also, the natural, if currently fictional, development of this technology to mask brainprints of assassins. “It can’t be him; he has a different brainprint”.
It’s the stuff of truly lousy fiction. The problem is that in the current ultra-paranoid, surveillance-obsessed world, lousy fiction tends to become lousy fact. The lousiness, of course, is donated to the public, and becomes part of the lousy reality. All technologies can be abused, and are. It’s just a question of how, and in what context, in this case.
In fairness, this new tech isn’t necessarily all bad. There are other possible uses for brainprints:
1. Checking progress and management of treatments of physical and psychological conditions. (PTSD, etc. may also benefit from accurate assessments.)
2. Testing for toxins.
3. Neurology – To identify areas of dysfunction in the brain.
4. Medical case law – Comparative scans, like other evidence, to support or refute claims.
5. Diagnostics of all kinds where the brain is subject to trauma.
It’s also quite possible that brainprints could become a sort of truly decadent luxury – Imagine a brainprint that tells you how happy you are, how rich, or how smug. Think of the status implications, running down the street showing people your scans…
My instincts tell me that brainprints will become a part of a culture, as much as part of science or medicine. There are no limits to intellectual pretensions. Never mind if your social skills show you should be burrowing for worms; your brainprint says you’re a genius.
…. On a completely different subject; how are things in Andromeda lately? I suddenly feel the need to find out.