Access control systems allow people to access buildings and rooms using authorisations and means of identification (such as an access card, PIN code, vehicle registration number, smartphone, etc.).
The means of identification identifies the person to the system and is, in essence, the interface between the person and the access control system.
This works just fine in most cases, but it’s impossible to be 100% sure of who is actually trying to get in.
Access cards and PIN codes can be easily given to another person.
So, we need to find a way to close this loophole in the interface between people and the access control system.
We need a system that can identify people with absolute certainty so that only the people who are authorised to enter a particular building or room or access specific data can do so.
Perhaps we can find the solution in the world of cyborgs.
What is a cyborg?
Let’s start at the beginning and answer the question ‘What is a cyborg?’.
Although various definitions can be found online, there is one common denominator: all sources agree that a cyborg is the result of the physical merging of man and machine.
This is a rich source of inspiration for screenwriters working on sci-fi scripts, and the word ‘cyborg’ generally evokes the image of a futuristic RoboCop-like character.
And yet, there are all sorts of people walking around today who fit the definition of cyborg.
According to some definitions of the term, people with a pacemaker can be considered cyborgs, and people with a prosthesis or other technological assistive device also fall within the definition.
This all takes some of the edge off the term and the world of cyborgs suddenly becomes much bigger, stretching well beyond science fiction films.
Research into cyborgs is a rich and varied field. In addition to the medical studies in this area, cyborg research is also being used for other purposes.
Researcher Kevin Warwick, better known as Captain Cyborg, has set out to improve mankind so that, in the future, we will be able to continue to compete with robots and machines.
However, here again, we’re edging closer to the world of science fiction, so let’s focus instead on identifying ourselves to access control systems and logging on to computers.
Could cyborgs solve our identification problem?
As we’ve seen, cyborgs are a regular feature in today’s world: more than 4 million people around the globe have a pacemaker, and this number is increasing by 700,000 each year. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24535624
The question is if cyborgs are already fully accepted in our society, can we also carry out research into using cyborgs to solve the identification problem described above?
If a cyborg is the result of the physical merging of man and machine, this opens the door to giving humans (additional) unique features.
These features would be physically part of the person and could be used by the computer to identify that individual.
Here’s another way of looking at it: right now we identify ourselves to an access control system using an access card, but what if you were to carry the card around in your body instead of in your wallet?
This is very easy to implement for an access control system. In fact, for just $99, you can buy a DIY kit with a chip, an applicator (syringe) and other materials you need to implant an NFC tag in your hand. https://dangerousthings.com/shop/xnti/
Once implanted, you can program the chip to use it for a variety of purposes, such as opening a door or logging onto your computer without having to enter a password.
This seems a bit over the top right now, and the conventional methods still offer sufficient functionality.
However, one thing is certain: interactions between man and machine will only increase, and human control in these interactions is sure to decrease.
Whoever encounters a real bank clerk anymore when requesting a new bank card?
And, more interactions with machines means more passwords: passwords that are difficult to remember and have been shown time and time again to be a weak link, either thanks to hackers or to people who choose a poor password.
What if cyborg technology could solve this problem for you?
Of course, implanting a chip just so you don’t have to carry around an access card is rather a drastic step.
And then there are the practical objections.
Will the receptionist implant the chip in you on your first day of work?
What happens if you leave the company?
And will there be – like with smartphones – a new generation of chips each year, will we need to upgrade every 3 years?
The serious threat of cyber-criminality also needs to be taken into account: what happens if the implants in our bodies are not secure?
Researchers have already shown that pacemakers can be hacked, for example.
So, what if the next cyber-attack is not aimed at shutting down computers, but at shutting down people? https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/09/fda-warns-that-certain-pacemakers-are-vulnerable-to-hacking/
And, finally, there are the ethical dilemmas.
Right now we’re talking about chips, but what if, as Kevin Warwick suggests, we reach the point where we can ‘upgrade’ people?
Is that something we want?
And will this option be available to everyone or only the rich?
In addition to research into cyborgs, the use of biometric features to identify individuals is being explored extensively.
Having your finger scanned to open a door is much less intrusive than having a device implanted in your body.
The flexibility of the technological device will undoubtedly be greater though.
Biometrics can only play a major role in addressing the issue of authentication.
If we want to achieve more, however, like competing with robots, we will have to broaden our horizons.
Should we all be chipped then?
Implanting a tiny chip under the skin between the thumb and index finger is likely to be the first step.
Researchers like Kevin Warwick are already looking much further, exploring a much broader area than cyborg technology alone.
Right now, the possibilities are still rather limited, and access cards, passwords and PIN codes still do the trick.
Once an implanted technology has been shown to substantially increase our productivity, however, this will accelerate adoption.
People will dismiss this right now, just as they did when email or internet banking was first introduced.
Even I was initially hesitant to install the banking app, but now I’m a convert.
And we’re seeing the same trend in other countries too: in 2008, 29% of Europeans were doing their banking online; by 2016 that figure had climbed to 49%, with north-western Europe largely responsible for boosting the average.
Once the benefits start to outweigh the objections, cyborgs will become the new norm, just like smartphones have. So, who knows: there could come a time when you’ll prove who you are with a simple handshake.