Biometrics: why play in the next era of emerging technologies

Access to your financial, medical and personal information might soon require only your body as the password.

Privacy, legal issues and the use of biometric and forensic data sets are a few of the challenges that lie just ahead of adoption of biometric identification technologies. But maybe adoption is happening and we just don’t know it. Biometrics are already used in everyday life.

Have you used your fingerprint to unlock your house? How often do you use Siri to find the local weather report? Both of those are examples of the many daily uses of biometrics. The beauty is that biometrics seamlessly integrate into our human workflow.

Expanding our definition of biometrics

Biometric technologies measure physiological characteristics. And biometric identification systems are automated methods for recognizing a person based on a physical or behaviorial characteristics. The process can be used for identification (one to many) and verification (one to one). Identification answers the question, “Is this person in a given database?” Verification answers the question, “Is this person who he or she claims to be?”

Biometric identification systems broadly fit into two categories: physiological (face, fingerprint, hand geometry and iris recognition) and behavioral (signature and voice). Biometrics began in Argentina in 1891, when Juan Vucetich was creating a catalog of criminal fingerprints. This kicked off the curious history of fingerprints (the earliest general form of captured biometrics). Some believe that fingerprint ID systems were developed even earlier by Alphonse Bertillon and developed by Francis Galton’s theory of fingerprints and physiognomy.

The first step to a digitized economy

India’s Aadhaar program is the largest biometric database in the world. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) claims that 1.05 billion Aadhar cards have been issued. This places India as a leader in the digital age: regardless of the well known social challenges India has yet to face. The Aadhaar program can be used to catalyze a national digital payments infrastructure for a country of 1.3 billion.

Often when we’re discussion biometrics, we’re talking about identification systems used in exchanges of payments. But today we’re talking about using the technology for transactions involving anything of value that can be transferred digitally, including payments in supply chain management. Initiatives undertaken for such purposes as fraud prevention, streamlining of payment standards or reinforcing a national payments infrastructure can all provide more value to consumers when combined with biometrics technology.

Examples of biometrics

There are many common examples of biometrics identifiers. What’s more interesting, however, are the uncommon examples, such as these.

  1. Thermograms
  2. DNA
  3. Retina recognition
  4. Gait
  5. Ear recognition
  6. Keystroke
  7. Skin reflection
  8. Body odor
  9. Lip motion

Other less common biometric identifiers that have been the focus of studies over the years include vein patterns, sweat pores, fingernail beds, hand grips, brain wave patterns, footprints and foot dynamics.

The ‘how’ behind the most commonly used biometric

Fingerprint recognition systems that use ink and paper are now less common than the inkless methods. Systems that use “live scan” fingerprint scanners are starting to emerge. These scanners use the following technological approaches: optical methods (FTIR), CMOS capacitance, thermal sensing and ultrasound sensing.

How does a fingerprint go from a scan to being useful for identification? Let’s run through the four steps.

First, after the live fingerprint scan, the technology uses the ridge ending and bifurcations on the individual’s finger to plot points known as minutiae. Every individual has different locations of the minutiae, which vary from person to person and finger to finger.

Second, with the fingerprint capture and extraction complete, the technology then creates a minutiae graph connecting the ending minutiae and the bifurcation minutiae. This forms the base for comparison.

Third, this base is then compared against an entire population for identification (one-to-many matches, as used in criminal investigations) or authentication (one-to-one matches) to compare the biometric identifier provided by someone seeking access to a system with the biometric identifier provided by the legitimate user and another piece of identifying information (password or PIN, for example). With the base completed, we can apply the security and matching technology.

Fourth, there are three primary categories of matching techniques: Image techniques, feature techniques and hybrid techniques. Image techniques apply both numerical image correlation and optical techniques to assist in matching. Feature techniques extract features from the image and construct representations from the identified extractions. Hybrid techniques combine imaging techniques and feature techniques for improved accuracy.

Biometrics standards and additional information

Interested in learning more about biometrics? There probably isn’t a better single source than the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) biometrics standards program (with the possible exception of the ISO publications on biometrics). NIST updated its NIST Special Publication 500-290 (“Data Format for the Interchange of Fingerprint, Facial and Other Biometric Information”) with a third revision in 2015. The 615-page document is an excellent reference for anyone who wants to learn more about the details of biometrics. 

Biometrics is a fascinating topic, and the underlying technology is developing quickly, with biometrics engines, workflow engines, rules engines, algorithms and databases designed for human characteristics. Simple modules such as voice biometric systems can connect to interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distribution (ACD), computer telephony integration (CTI), customer relationship management (CRM), and desktop and mobile analytics systems to ease the consumer experience.

The next time you request access to open a bank account or begin your first day at a new job, you might be required to fill out a biometrics form for your access to company systems. Biometrics will quickly become the standard by which we measure simplicity of access to financial, medical or personal information.

Previous articleHealthcare VR innovations are healing patients
Next articleA look at India’s biometrics identification system: digital APIs for a connected world
Peter is a technology executive with 19 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.