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ATPM 10.06
June 2004


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The Candy Apple

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

It’s Too Bad We Need This Device

I read an article in a recent Scientific American, about this gadget you can buy that secures your laptop with a fingerprint rather than a password. It’s called the U.are.U 4000. Somebody can still steal the unit, but they won’t be able to use it. Well, a few forensic government types could, or I guess someone who could figure out a hack on the software that encodes the fingerprints. But realistically, if you had this thing on your laptop, no one you know would be able to use it for anything but a doorstop. The buzz phrase is “fingerprint recognition technology.”

At first I thought that was really cool. They explained how sophisticated the devices are, and that they’re really affordable too—I think the cheapest one was around $100. Maybe we can review one for a future issue. The writer’s friend was determined to fake out the device, and he copied his friend’s fingerprint with a piece of transparent tape. It still didn’t fool the device. I can’t remember the error rate the developers strove for, but from that little demonstration they certainly seem to have worked the kinks.

The devices are also equipped to recognize several fingerprints per unit, so you could have your laptop “keyed” to be used by several people. Each would only have access to whatever the administrator set up for them, so you could limit children to certain applications or whatever. Just like we do with many home computers. Well, and work computers, too; plenty of those have limited access. But they don’t yet have fingerprint recognition technology all over the place, do they? It must not be too far away. If it’s this cheap for home users, imagine what an office could do, buying several licenses at a discount.

I’m impressed by what we can do. I’m depressed by our need to do it.

I like that in the not too distant future, I could leave a laptop on the table at the coffee shop when I go for a refill, knowing that no one will steal it because they know most units are keyed to their users by fingerprint. What I don’t like is knowing that human nature is such that I must protect myself from it, by keying my laptop to a fingerprint so no one will steal it. Already I’m turned off from taking a laptop to the coffee shop a few years from now, and I don’t even have one yet.

It is just one more example of how technology is an extension of human nature, rather than independent of it. If human nature were not sometimes selfish, we could do without locks and keys and fingerprint recognition. We would only need doors to keep something in rather than out. Like our kitties. It would only be a matter of time before someone would come up with a pawprint recognition system to let the cat decide when it wants to go in or out. Now that would be technology I know plenty of people would support!

But see, even then, we would have changed the fundamental relationship between cat and human. The cat knows the human exists to open the door. It doesn’t matter which side the cat is on, it wants to be on the other side. That’s what the humans are for, to open those doors. If we make it so the cat can open the door anytime it wants, we lose something important about the subservient relationship between cat and its human. So even though the cat would like the power of the pawprint, it prefers the power over the people. Maybe we should leave it alone. It’s worked for centuries.

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Reader Comments (1)

John Morgan · June 3, 2004 - 08:41 EST #1
I agree that it's sad we have to have this kind of technology. So many people are living in poverty in this country. Perhaps the Big Brother technologies give us an insight into what we are doing to our fellow man and the vast division between those who have, and those who have not.

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