When a person views an image or reads a word, the brain reacts to process that input. Recent research shows however that each person’s response has a specific pattern and this pattern is much like a fingerprint.
A team of neuroscientists at Binghamton University, led by Assistant Professor of Psychology Sarah Laszlo and Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Zhanpeng Jin, conducted a study that mapped the brain activity of 50 volunteers. The participants wore an electroencephalogram headset while they looked at a series of 500 images, each of which was chosen because it would result in a different or unique response from each person. For example a picture of a boat or a slice of pizza or even movie star Anne Hathaway produced very specific responses as did certain words like “conundrum.”
The project produced surprising results. The headset worn by the volunteers captured the brain activity so well that when a computer analyzed the patterns of activity for each person, they could identify which study participant it was with 100% accuracy. They found that participants' brains reacted differently to each image, enough that a computer system was able to identify each volunteer's "brainprint" with 100 percent accuracy.
This research wasn’t the first time the team at Binghamton looked at this possibility. In 2015 they published a similar study, but there were fewer participants in that one, and it only used words instead of images. The results there were that a computer could correctly identify one of the participant’s brain patterns from the group, but only with 97% accuracy.
Professor Laszlo said, "It's a big deal going from 97 to 100 percent because we imagine the applications for this technology being for high-security situations, like ensuring the person going into the Pentagon or the nuclear launch bay is the right person. You don't want to be 97 percent accurate for that, you want to be 100 percent accurate. When you take hundreds of these images, where every person is going to feel differently about each individual one, then you can be really accurate in identifying which person it was who looked at them just by their brain activity.”
The field of research that looks at brain waves and their applications is called “brain biometrics” and it’s getting a lot of attention for use in security. Secure areas like military facilities currently use retina scans or fingerprints for access to certain rooms or computers. If someone wanted to gain unauthorized access to these secure areas, fingerprints and retina scans can be stolen, as gruesome as that sounds. Once that happens, the security is compromised forever, since fingerprints and retina anatomy cannot be reset.
Brainprints potentially could though, because humans have the ability via the brain’s neuroplasticity to reset their thoughts about something. The team believes that this kind of technology would be very useful in high security areas like access to the Situation Room at the White House, certain areas of the Pentagon as well as military research facilities that need to be extremely secure. Take a look at the video below to learn more about this research.
Sources: Binghamton University IEEE Science Direct