One of the many promising developments with practical applications emerging from neuroscience is something called “brain wave biometrics.” Everyone’s brain produces a distinctive pattern of alpha-beta brain waves – something like a neural fingerprint. If we could record those brain wave patterns for a given person, we’d have a reliable way of identifying that person later on.
That’s the idea behind a new technology from researchers in Japan that could eventually replace conventional security measures for preventing car and airplane hijackings. Right now, identity authentication relies on getting it right one time – a fingerprint or eye scan, for example, is a one-time-only way of authenticating someone’s identity. If that one-time-only measure fails or is fooled, the authentication system is worthless; the person doing the fooling is “in” and there’s nothing stopping them.
But, if the authentication system continuously monitors the person’s identity instead of only checking it one time—then the game changes. That’s the edge brain wave biometrics offers. Lead research engineer Isao Nakanishi, of the Graduate School of Engineering at Tottori University, explained to me by email, “The purpose of my research is to achieve continuous or on-demand authentication for users – whether an automobile driver or a pilot. Conventional one-time-only authentication based on a fingerprint or an iris scan cannot detect spoofing (i.e., fooling the system). Continuous authentication can prevent such spoofing.”
How this would work in real-time would go something like this: the owner of car would be scanned with an electroencephalogram (EEG), which would record his or her alpha-beta brain wave patterns. Those patterns would then be stored in the car’s biometric security system, and whenever someone attempts to drive the car, their brain waves would be compared to the stored patterns. If they don’t match, the car doesn’t start. But even if the person was somehow able to fool the initial test, they’d still ultimately fail because the security system would continuously check their brain waves for a correct match.
The same idea can be applied to commercial airplanes. Pilots would have on file their distinctive brain wave patterns, and the plane’s security system would be calibrated for each flight to only match brain wave patterns for the assigned pilots. Throughout the flight, the system would continuously check the patterns to ensure they haven’t changed. If someone tried hijacking the flight, the security system would immediately identify the brain wave pattern change and block the hijacker from controlling the plane.
Nakanishi said that sensors in the car or plane would be required to monitor brain waves and compare them against the stored patterns—a relatively basic technology by today’s standards. The technology could also eventually be used to prevent drunk driving incidents because alpha-beta waves are altered by alcohol. Nakanishi told me that his team will be focusing on that possibility in the next round of research.
The study was published in the International Journal of Biometrics.