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Friday, September 30, 2005

Giving the finger to the bank, and other tech developments


Biometrics continues its spread into our lives, as ever more and more of what we do and even what we are becomes either public domain, someone else's private property or just becomes less and less the sole property of the human they describe. In Japan, banks plan to introduce a new form of biometric identification: vein readers. The new technology will read the unique vein patterns in the finger. Apparently oblivious to the hilarious coincidence, banks will require customers to insert their middle finger into an electronic reader. The plan is ostensibly to combat certain kinds of fraud. In case you were thinking of chopping off some rich guy's finger, think again. The TimesOnline reports:
The engineers have installed technology that means the severed finger could not be used, because the system only works when presented with veins that have warm blood pumping through them.
Meanwhile, the Deccan Herald reports that researchers have discovered that by scanning liars' brains with an MRI, they can tell with up to 99 percent accuracy whether someone is telling the truth or not. Of course, cops and intelligence services have expressed much interest in the development. The hope, amongst police state fans, is that the devices might be so accurate that they can be admitted in court.

It's unlikely we'll ever see a politician hooked up to one, though. But then, who needs an MRI scan to know a politician is lying? The Economic Times of India has already foreseen this possibility, and in a sarcastic defense of politicians, they cite research into liar's brains that reveals substantial structural differences between the brains of truth-tellers and deceivers. See, it turns out that the question isn't whether politicians lie. Research suggests that they might not have a choice:
A recent study by the University of Southern California (USC), published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has indicated that habitual liars may not be able to help themselves. That people who lie, cheat and manipulate may be doing so out of a brain abnormality rather than a drawback in character!
See, it's not their fault:
Take the instance of one of India’s senior-most ministers — alas no more — stating that he had forgotten to pay income-tax. We now know... that these may not have been deliberate lies but involuntary ones!
Meanwhile, as the lying politicians aren't doing anything to protect us poor and working class folks from the bird flu, it's comforting to know that some scientists think the shrinking ice caps may release long-frozen viruses that humans now have no immunity to and that governments also plan not to protect us from. Prime amongst the threats: influenza. But no need to fret, counsels Geoffrey Smith, scientist: "It is not top of my worries. We have enough to think about with the number of dangerous viruses around today." Don't you feel better now?
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RELEVANT BLAST FROM THE PAST: Nowhere left to hide by Katharine Mieszkowski

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