Writing process

Biometrics–minority report is here

I went to the Romance Writers of Australia conference this weekend. A great conference, with lots of interesting talks. There were too many good presenters and interesting topics to mention, although I do have to mention Amy Andews’ closing talk. It’s a hard place to be but Amy gave an entertaining talk to a packed room. That’s a feat in itself. Normally any conference or con you go to is pretty empty by the last session. She deserved her standing ovation.

But the session I wanted to talk about was A. J. Blythe’s Biometrics. Think Minority Report type identification. Or any science fiction story where you have to ID yourself, really.

It was a fascinating look at identity, and what can or can’t be used to identify you.

Fingerprints, for sure. And for forensics, fingerprints means fingers, toes, your palm and your foot. What I didn’t realise is that each finger and toe is unique. Nor that fingerprints can be temporarily rubbed off in some trades, like bricklaying, with the excessive rough mortar. Or by someone who handles paper all day every day, because paper acts like a very fine sandpaper.

Your face is unique, and even if your face changes, the points security systems measure stay the same, so it can be used to identify you. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to hack, especially given the photos people have on social media. Some university ran a study where a group of people who used photo ID on their phones gave the researches their phone. The researchers were able to hack the phone just from stalking the people online.

Your ear is also unique. It, too, could be used in security. Except, I suppose, you’d have to press your ear up to the phone.

Weirdest moment of the session was when A. J. put up a photo an ear—just the ear—and someone in the room immediately recognised it as Hugh Jackman’s.

Your voice isn’t as unique. Under the right circumstances an identical twin can fool voice ID. After that we got onto the various ways you can change your appearance, including an interesting video from the CIA former Chief of Disguise (how’s that for a cool title?), showing of a man changing his clothes in the street (not literally, but taking off his tie, and his jacket), putting on a fisherman’s hat, and dark glasses, and how he suddenly wasn’t the same person any more. I mean, if you were watching you could see him change, but it’s still amazing to see the transformation.

This is the full YouTube video. [from the Wired channel.] The quick change starts at 6:43, but the whole clip is worth watching.

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