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Your Thoughts Are Your Password 240

Vitaly Friedman writes "Scientists hope that mind-reading computers will one day replace typed passwords, making fingerprint readers and retina scans obsolete. Skeptics say don't count on it. From the article: 'Researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, are exploring the possibility of a biometric security device that will use a person's thoughts to authenticate her or his identity. Their idea of utilizing brain-wave signatures as pass-thoughts is based on the premise that brain waves are unique to each individual. Some researchers believe the difference might just be enough to create a system that allows you to log in with your thoughts.'"
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Your Thoughts Are Your Password

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  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by x2A ( 858210 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:20PM (#15213799) my computer won't let me use it when I'm stoned or tripped out :-/

    Gonna have to get a standalone CD player and ditch winamp and it's pretty visual plugins :'-(

  • boobies (Score:5, Funny)

    by 88NoSoup4U88 ( 721233 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:21PM (#15213806)
    My password would be 'boobies' since i'd always have my password straight up...

    Wait, did I just say that out loud ?

    •, 'Security through obscurity.' At least where the average /.-er is concerned. Heh.

      Seriously though, if you really want your 'passthought' to be secure, you should make it something like b00b135. Nobody would ever guess that.

      This sig intentionally left blank

    • My password would be 'boobies' since i'd always have my password straight up.

      Hey! You stole my password!
  • Great... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:21PM (#15213816)
    Why do I suspect there will be quite a few folks out there with not particularly complex passwords?
    • Don't worry. I'm sure they won't allow this in the Oval Office.
      • ...

        Tech Support: I'm sorry Mr President, your brainwave password is too simple, you will have to think a lot harder.
        President: If I think any harder, I'll crap my pants. ...

        Sorry, I've just been browsing the internets for George WWW quotes.

        Fight the fish!
  • by From A Far Away Land ( 930780 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:21PM (#15213819) Homepage Journal
    I know my first thought password wil be along the lines of:
    "If you don't let me into this computer right now, I'm going to throw you out of the window."

    The Urgent-use chip that typically prevents access to a technology when the user is in desperate need, will be in direct conflict with the new thought reading password-chip. The upcoming internal struggle in computers will be interesting to watch, but a pain to support.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:21PM (#15213821)

    Scientists also hope that soon breakthroughs in the field of Artificial Intelligence will give rise to a new race of machine intelligences, who will selflessly do all our work for us, freeing us for lives of leisure (and, incidentally, not murder all of us or make us into batteries).

    Scientists also hope that soon they will identify the Dishonesty Gene, so that they may excie it from humanity's DNA, creating a race of perfectly honest people who no longer need to safeguard their systems with passwords.

    Scientists also hope that soon they will be able to transport our consciousnesses into vast computers, giving each member of humanity a lifespan of eons and a godlike existence.

    Me...I just want my goddamned flying car. That's all.
    • "Me...I just want my goddamned flying car"
      A more significant use of thought-reading computers could be to have them design a device or program of our wishes/thoughts. Until this point people have had to program or draw what they want and tell the machines what to do to make it. Maybe now besides a computer reading our thoughts so we can never be free [since the computer would hand over our thoughts to a government request for information], we can also have them design wonderful things automatically by thi
      • A more significant use of thought-reading computers could be to have them design a device or program of our wishes/thoughts. Until this point people have had to program or draw what they want and tell the machines what to do to make it.

        I don't care if we have one that the computer can read. I'd be happy if I had one that would explain to me what the hell product management are asking for and how they think it's supposed to work.

        So far, I got nothing! :-P

      • Hm, sounds like some creepy cross between The Matrix and the simulatuion booths in Minority Report.
    • by Darth_Burrito ( 227272 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @02:07PM (#15214377)
      not murder all of us or make us into batteries

      This just struck me as funny. A typical machine would interpret this condition as satisfied if either of the following two conditions were met:

      1) Not all humans were murdered.
      2) Humans were made into batteries (negation has higher precendence than -or- operations).
    • ...I just want my goddamned flying car. That's all.

      We already have flying cars of many kinds and varieties. For example, "helicopters" are a marvellous brand of flying car that has been around for a while. Alas, the bureaucracy hasn't made them street-legal yet.

    • Me...I just want my goddamned flying car. That's all.

      We have them. They're called airplanes (or a slightly different style which is called a helicopter).
  • ...

    Yeah, you heard me right.
  • I for one, welcome our mind-reading computer overlords. Can't wait til MS gets a hold of mind reading technology. I am sure it will be totally secure...
  • *puts on blue turban and takes an envelope*

    Dumber than a brick.

    *rips open envelope to read what's inside*

    What you call a person that can't give their 'mind password.'

    -- Bridget
  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:23PM (#15213847) Journal
    I deal with users all the time, and there is no WAY this'll work...There is no software ever written that can distinguish one blank slate from another.
    • Oh give them some credit! They do think about things, just nothing really related to work.

      These users hope that they don't create a program to open applications based on their thoughts or you'd have a lot of people either a) surfing porn "unintentionally" or b) on a Forum whining about how much work they have to do without every doing anything at all.

      Woo for technology!
      • every fifteen seconds and eventually, you see the actual object of your desire; after she's out on thirty pounds, sagging from a brace of kids, and fifteen years older.

        You'd never be able to to get rid of the 'reality overlaid onto memory' and your pass 'thought' would simply stop working.

        I'm sure I rather have the computer look at my finger prints or, for more secure applications, look me in the eye.

    • ...There is no software ever written that can distinguish one blank slate from another.

      You'd be surprised how many different ways there are to think "Duuuuhhhhh...". This potential technology gives a huge improvement over simple password authentication, because there is only one way to spell "12345".

      Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to change the combination on my luggage.

    • You will find the next phase of the project particularly useful, where you get to write stuff on to user's brains rather than just read it. Won't it be great to program in to their brain next week's downtime so they don't come bug you to ask why the mail server is down while you are working on it?
  • Good luck with that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:25PM (#15213861)
    fMRI xperiments have consistently shown that people are not able to consciously control activity (average firing rates) in local networks within the brain. Since all brain scans pick up mean field electrical activity (and, unless you are willing to stab yourself in the brain with micro-electrodes, always will), it will be impossible to create a unique thought pattern signature that is consistently reproducable.
    • What experiments are you thinking of? While I agree with your conclusion that this is not good way to recognize someone, I totally disagree that brain activity can not be consciously controlled. True, activity in some regions is less accessible to conscious control, but certain things are quite easy to control. For example, I can quite consistently regulate the activity in my left inferior frontal gyrus (a language area) by adjusting internal speech. If we did not have conscious control over our brain ac
  • Passing thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

    What would suck is if someone's passing thought would unlock your door! With all those random thoughts in the atmosphere...
  • If you don't want to take the time, the article basically says, "this would be a really cool idea, but it's not ready for prime time, and it's too expensive, and it's too unwieldy, and there are already cheaper, better, easier alternatives.

    From the article:

    but right now the only way to tap into a person's brain signals is through a highly inconvenient EEG cap that's smeared with conductive gel and worn on the scalp.

    There's going to be a lot of people having a bad hair day. For once, being bald holds an

    • There's going to be a lot of people having a bad hair day. For once, being bald holds an advantage.

      From Arthur C Clarke's future history []:

      2025 Neurological research finally leads to an understanding of all the senses, and direct inputs become possible, bypassing eyes, ears, skin, etc. The inevitable result is the metal "Braincap" of which the 20th century's Walkman was a primitive precursor. Anyone wearing this helmet, fitting tightly over the skull, can enter a whole universe of experience real or imag

    • There are other caps now, that measure at much lower levels. They work without gel and don't have to be worn on the scalp. It's a lot faster, but the signal gets noisier. You need really good amplifiers for them.
  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:26PM (#15213880)
    mind-reading computers will one day replace typed passwords,

    They'll have to crowbar my tinfoil helmet from my cold dead head first!!!!

  • by technoextreme ( 885694 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:26PM (#15213882)
    Did someone just skim the article and think that someone thought you can read your thoughts?? Did someone instantl think of 1984?? That's not what they are suggesting. It's just a gage to the reaction to certain stimuli like how people react to the color red. Aparently everyone's reaction is different.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:27PM (#15213894) Homepage Journal
    This "thought password" is just another biometric, except one which even the actual owner can't be certain he can reproduce at will. If a sensor can non-invasively read your brain activity to open the door, then another sensor can non-invasively read your brain activity to try to reproduce the signature by fraud. It may or may not turn out to be easy to train a bunch of random lab biomass to reproduce a particular "thought." Lastly, a password is something that can be lent to authorized parties or bequeathed when you're no longer around. A biometric in general cannot. In some circumstances, this can be a good thing or a problem. A lawyer or boss can be the "executor" in your absense, but some situations are best when there is no proxy or executor middleman.
    • What I am wonder is how this will affect people with neurological disorders that affect brain patterns like epilespy? I know an epileptic that has aura's all the time and she gets dizzy. Her EEG's during those dizzy periods are not normal minutes to hours before a siezure. And bipolar disorders? Sure you can think the password, but if your brain isn't stable all the time how can thinking a password match 100% of the time? What if you change medications? Some migraine medicanes are epilespy drugs and they ac
    • If you were using a standard password and were hit by a bus, you quite possibly could forget your password in that case as well... And there's nothing stopping you from having a system that can be unlocked by a standard password as an alternate method of access. You could create a random, 32 character password (you'll normally be logging in by brain wave so no need to make it small and memorable) and lock it in a deposit box. If you die, your attorney can unlock the box and log in using the password.

      The a

  • Yeah! (Score:4, Funny)

    by gfilion ( 80497 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:28PM (#15213912) Homepage
    Mine will be Natalie Portman, naked and petrified.

  • From the article:

    Their idea of utilizing brain-wave signatures as "pass-thoughts" is based on the premise that brain waves are unique to each individual. Even when thinking of the same thing, the brain's measurable electrical impulses vary slightly from person to person. Some researchers believe the difference might just be enough.

    One big problem is that while each person's EEG may be slightly different from the next's while "thinking the same thing" (don't even get me started on the problems with tha
    • No need to be just sceptical, it's downright stupid. These people have perhaps never even seen a real EEG recording. Now, if the password would have to be as long as, say, one minute or so, then a lot of noise could be cancelled out...

      Anyway, there are researchers engaged in competitions where they try to reconstruct the stimuli based on the EEG pattern and they seem to succeed in distinguishing some 200.A personal signature in that mess is noisy, so to avoid false recognition (while striving for perfect co
  • Will never work mainly because people often get stressed, undergo trauma and other general issues that cause brain patterns to change throughout our day to day lives not to mention our lifetime.

    Should a traumatic event happen, a users brainwaves generally change... always in the short term and often long term as well. How will a computer be able to tell who we are if our brains are always in a state of flux.

    The onyl way they could do this is if they determined a type of 'brainwave DNA' which doesn't change
  • Yay. yet another biometric id that fails to address the most important feature of passwords. namely that they can be changed when compromised.

    ok, it appears that if, in the next 40 years, this becomes possible, there should be a way to change the brain pattern if one becomes compromised, but the whole thing seems needlessly complicated.
  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:31PM (#15213948)

    that once the digital representation is compromised, it is not possible to generate a new biometric. AIUI, every biometric device translates the chosen bioetric into some digital representation (after all, everything is just 1's and 0's to a computer). If this is compromissed, you are sunk. I suppose that precautions, like salting and other things to prevent a replay attack, could help. But in the end, if my passowrd is compromised, I can set a new one. If my eyeball's digital representation is compromised, then I can't generate a new eyeball.

  • Has anybody seen that movie? It's a classic. Passwords for data stored into your brain implants were pictures.

    In the case of our hero, the password was the picture of a specific woman. Unfortunately the overload corrupted half of the image. With the help of a dolphin (whose intelligence was better than a genius') in a VR world, Johnny managed to get the missing half by mirroring the good half. After the password was obtained, the data could be released and they saved the world.

    I loved this movie (despite th
    • ...Johnny managed to get the missing half by mirroring the good half...

      I loved this movie (despite the primitive graphics)...

      ...and despite the lack of attention to an important detail: People are not perfectly symmetrical. If you create an image of someone by mirroring one half of his or her face, it will be noticeably different from a normal picture of that person. (Unless, of course, the movie noted that the person in question was unusually symmetrical... haven't seen the movie.)

  • by awing0 ( 545366 ) <adam&badtech,org> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:34PM (#15213989) Homepage
    Gozer: The Choice is made!
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Whoa! Ho! Ho! Whoa-oa!
    Gozer: The Traveller has come!
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Nobody choosed anything!
    [turns to Egon]
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Did YOU choose anything?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: No.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: [to Winston] Did YOU?
    Winston Zeddemore: My mind is totally blank.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: I didn't choose anything.
    [long pause, Peter, Egon and Winston all look at Ray]
    Dr Ray Stantz: I couldn't help it. It just popped IN there.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: [angrily] What? What just popped in there?
    Dr Ray Stantz: I... I... I tried to think...
    Dr. Egon Spengler: LOOK!
    [they all look over one side of the roof]
    Dr Ray Stantz: No! It CAN'T be!
    Dr. Peter Venkman: What is it?
    Dr Ray Stantz: It CAN'T be!
    Dr. Peter Venkman: What did you do, Ray?
    Winston Zeddemore: Oh, shit!
    [they all see a giant cubic white head topped with a sailor hat, Peter looks at Ray]
    Dr Ray Stantz: [somberly] It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

    --From the IMDB.
  • that old saying from some research somewhere that men think about sex six times per hour...
    well, the law of averages.. sort of like how the timed salts worked with old crack program (people were most likely to create a new password in the morning so it limited the number of salts to a couple hour window which made cracking much faster)...

    sounds insecure to me :)
    but then, what I am thinking about?

  • another thought (Score:3, Interesting)

    by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:37PM (#15214014) Homepage Journal
    If you want to retrieve identity from the human brain, a structural scan will do much better than a functional scan. The pattern of folds and grooves in the cortex is highly individualized, and relatively static. Functional activity is much more dynamic and inconsistent over time. I can, for example, recognize my own brain fairly easily because I have an unusual shape to my precentral sulcus on the left side.
  • How will the thousands of tinfoil-hat wearing slashdot posters login?

    Average story posts drop from hundreds to dozens.

  • Didn't the Russians already perfect this in the novel Firefox? Thought patterns were used to control the missiles off of the Mig-[whatever it was]. I can remember the movie version where Clint Eastwood's handler explained to him that he would have to "Think in Russian" to get the weapons control systems to work.
  • Moreover, the way we remember things evolves. It may not be possible to design a system that can passively recognize the changing signature of the same thought by the same individual over time.

    All other technical arguments for why it can't work aside, this is the biggest bugaboo. You're going to age; your faculties will age as well. Recall is iffy at best even when you're in a "normal" state, let's leave out being stoned, drunk, angry, depressed, etc. Just the simple aging of your brain is going to make t

  • So some time in the future will we be looking at RFID like use, but instead of holding a small amount of information or a key linked to a database - it'll be everything we are.

    A few bad examples:
    - good afternoon MR S. B. ODSWORTH, your wifes birthday is coming up next week: we've just delivered some flowers and charged your account, along with a note reminding her to phone the doctor regarding your incontenance.
    - A new 'thought-crime' bill now means you are safe from injury/burgulary etc. with the criminal
  • Grandfather: "Where you youngins off to?"
    Kids: "BAWDriving"
    Grandfather: "huh, what is that, some new type of BMW?"
    Kids: "(old people) No, it's beta/alpha wave driving. We go around getting peoples' passwords as they think them."
    Grandfather: "In my day, we went a wardriving looking for people stupid enough, or maybe even nice enough til the laws kicked in that is, to give us wide open access to their WiFi. Free surfing on someone else's net connection. Boy those were the days. I got a lot of tail doing t
  • Skeptics say don't count on it.
    Really?!? I SO would have thought that they have no doubts at all on this subject.

    [This message brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.]
  • Question: If a device can be made to differentiate thoughts, and if a computer interface is eventually connected to one of these such that a user thinks certain commands which the computer detects, and if such an interface becomes widespread, then could it happen that while walking down the street someone in the habit of thinking in terms of the computer would be opening his thoughts to anyone listening? If you "think to type", what happens if you accidentally think your bank password, insults, luggage comb

  • ...between my thought password and the parental controls I'll have in place to keep nieces and nephews from using Uncle Glas' computer for immoral purposes. Probably never be able to get into the bloody thing again.
  • I'm not too sure since I'm not a big pro in the brain waves department but heh, that would be cool.

    If someone said its possible its because they saw the beginning of a way to do this.

    Sure it looks funky but heh... I can still read that famous phrase :

    "256k of RAM outta be enough for everyone...."

  • by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @01:56PM (#15214256) Journal
    Your password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Kids these days have no attention span whatsoever, so this would be the ultimate computer security for parents...

    "The password is a dewy meadow..." *imagines* "...with trees swaying in the wind... and the sun coming up over the hori.. OOOH SHINY BALL!!!"
    • That'd make for tough parenting choices.

      If they give their kids Ritalin to keep them calm so they don't have to watch them, they'd be able to log on to the computer and see stuff. But if they don't give their kids Ritalin, the kids can't log on to the computer so they won't see bad things but the parents would have to pay attention to them.
  • by dilvish_the_damned ( 167205 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @02:03PM (#15214338) Journal
    like this:
    Pardon ma'am, whatever you do dont look at this red light and think of your password.
  • ...doesn't this mean that people will then simply cut off your head and have that scanned?
  • ... what happens if you don't exactly feel like yourself one day?

    (The scary thing is that this joke might actually turn out to be a valid point!)
  • The idea of pass-thoughts is nifty and all, but seems overly complicated and prone to error. This piece did remind me of a previous article in Wired ( ml?pg=5) that covers work being done on a a portable fMRI using near-infrared light. Put the two together, and rather than a password, the authentication scheme can merely be a truthful response to "Are you really so-and-so?"
  • Whatever happened to the ability to confirm a person's identity by their typing pattern? Brain scans sound overly complicated compared to something simple like this. I thought the typing pattern check was accurate to within 95% or something like that. It would be purely software based but nothing ever came of it. Seems like a much better idea than this.
  • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @02:32PM (#15214652)
    This brings a whole new meaning to: "can you reset my password?"
  • So you're saying it's my thoughts. Then every male under 28 has password 'Jessica Simpson', and everyone over it has 'Raquel Welch'. And this improves security how?
  • Quiet everyone, I can't even hear myself think...
    "I want a Peanut"
    That's better!

  • must think in Russian.
  • If you want true security and no effort on the part of the operator (like remembering passwords), just do retinal scans from the camera on the laptop. That way, you can log in with a system that we know can uniquely identify people. Not like in the article which is just theory. We can also do this with no effort. Just have the laptop scan your eyes when you look into the monitor (using the apple telescreen monitors). It's very easy.
  • This reminds of me a book Vectors [] by Michael P. Kube-Mcdowell where a scientist uses something like this to determine a fingerprint for every human being. His research wound up finding a link between the soul and the mind. I wonder if such a device will cause problems for any religions? At least it doesn't draw blood [].
  • Does that mean I can't log on if I'm drunk?

    Maybe that's a good thing.
  • Bank Teller: Hmm.... We don't seem to have your retina scan, your fingerprint, or your colonic map on file.
    Fry: Yeah, well, I did open the account over a thousand years ago.

  • Welcome to not getting access to your password protected stuff when you're drunk, high, or have suffered a stroke or other brain injury.
  • Or would it be just another crypto Wunderwaffe suitable for more cronyism in the War on Terrer, Drugs, Boobies, et al.?

    A successful login would only occur when you are able to identify your password by thinking "yes" to the letters or pictures that form it in sequence -- like a mental game of 20 questions.

    Or like, I don't know, thinking of the letters and typing them on a keypad? That method sure sounds like a mental equivalent to hunt-and-peck on a keyboard without a backspace key.

    And, like ot

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.