This essay is an excerpt from Timeline of Next, our recent Cognizant Center for the Future of Work report, which explores the remarkable possibilities for the decade ahead. By pulling a thread on what we know now about our “new normal” and considering what may come later as a result, various thought leaders from within Cognizant and beyond help us peak into the future of families, work, economic structures, life itself and more.
Facial recognition was a trendy topic about a decade ago. The idea of a machine being able to recognize you, speak to you and personalize experiences for you while doing the same for every other passerby — it was the stuff of Minority Report, Blade Runner, 1984 and 100 other dystopian visions.
Strange that we were all so suspicious.
But the land of the machines faced its own disaster when the pandemic struck — all these humans were suddenly wearing masks. “Where’s the face?” “Cannot compute.”
The problems with facial recognition as a biometric identifier go back further than 2020. Beyond the ethical debates, there were a number of practical challenges that simply couldn’t be solved for. At least as early as 2017, US Special Forces were already hunting for alternative approaches to facial recognition. Reliable ID methods were (and are) critical for mission success. “What if the subject now has a beard?” “What if they put on sunglasses?” “What if they paint their face?”
Answer: Project Jetson
What if we could point a laser at a person — turned sideways, sitting down, in a jacket — and simply recognize them? What if their body itself was like a fingerprint — captured once, identifiable forever?
Consider that every person in the world has a unique heart rhythm. Combine infrared lasers with a vibrometer, a database and an algorithm built to identify that rhythm, and you have Jetson, a device that can detect an individual’s unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser, brought to you by the Pentagon.
The thing about lasers is, distance doesn’t really matter — no Zooming required; masks optional. Biometric, perfectly accurate personal identification based on heartbeat — just another military product that quickly gained non-military uses.
Already, infrared lasers are everywhere. During the pandemic, you may have had your temperature checked from a tablet when walking into a building. When boarding a flight or entering a hotel, an attendant might have scanned your forehead with a thermometer gun. Both show infrared lasers at work.
Even the iPhone is a Class 1 Laser Product – it has used infrared lasers for years, mostly for facial recognition. When the iPhone 12 Pro came out in 2020, LIDAR was included, and your phone could suddenly scan the surface of Mars … or your bedroom. Either way.
We’ve become more and more accustomed to those boring, quiet lenses projecting invisible light onto our world, onto us. As the contactless movement continues, more uses of that light will be explored.
Even in 2020, heartbeat identification had already been in use for a few years by major manufacturing and research facilities, though the technology had early challenges. Here, security was critical, and constant authentication — made possible by wearables — was valued.
For the consumer world, though, wearables aren’t an option. Companies need to recognize people walking in the door, know their preferences, confirm their identity and associate all of that with a bank account. Nobody would put on a bracelet to make this easier.
Thankfully, NASA has made innovation here a bit simpler, with its HeartBeatID patent. Startups and the enterprise alike can easily license this technology and build solutions.
So where will that get us?
In the near future, you’ll be able to visit a store with infrared systems in place, be automatically logged in and begin having experiences that just feel more relevant. Let’s call it CardioID.
Your signature wouldn’t be referenced against a name or any personally identifiable information — it’s more like you’d been cookied.
Applications will extend beyond retail. It could be used as a secure password system, or marketers could gain another metric on returning customers — a win for the business that consumers would never notice.
Consumers might be wary that such a system could threaten their anonymity; however, in time, the security and privacy implications could be covered by extending regulations such as the GDPR — “by entering this establishment, you agree to ….”
Here’s the thing with biometrics: They’re forever, immutable. This means CardioID would be a highly secure mechanism for seamlessly identifying yourself. Couple CardioID with facial recognition, and you’ve got true two-factor authentication for walking into a store, grabbing what you want and leaving, with payment automated through a connection with your bank account.
For all intents and purposes, CardioID will take our unique heart rhythms and turn them into something between a password and a personalizer — truly a future with heart.
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