Thursday, July 24, 2008

Biometrics: Fingerprints versus palm prints

While driving back from Charleston, SC (USA) today - a lovely seaport city, by the way - I was catching up on my podcasts and happened to listen to a Wall Street Journal (US, center-right, business news) segment on new palm print readers.  The part that caught my attention was the claim by one interviewee that - and I'm paraphrasing here - "people" were concerned about using fingerprint biometric identification technologies because they were worried about later being falsely accused of a crime due to a mistaken match to a print left at a crime scene.  The interviewee went on to say that as police did not collect palm prints during crime scene investigations, palm print biometrics systems were getting a leg up in the market place.

This made me wonder exactly who are these "people" he referred to?  I'm rather doubtful that it is the general public that has these concerns.  I find it much easier to believe that elements of criminal "society" or privacy advocates would be tuned-in to these issues, but not the average man on the street.  I might be being too critical of this particular piece, but I thought that the reporter should have challenged, or at least followed up on, that statement.

In a larger context, this may unfortunately be a textbook example of how public policy is determined at the chaotic intersection where the general public, subject matter experts, issue advocates, the marketplace, and technology all collide.  I certainly hope not!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Admin: National NATIA conference

I haven't missed many national NATIA conferences over the past twelve years or so, but this year I will unless I can exploit some quantum mechanical effect on a macro scale - I can't be in two places at once. So, I'm off to points south instead of west. Enjoy the conference, you who can attend, and I look forward to hearing about any interesting a/v forensic happenings. Cheers!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Biometrics: Fooling an age verification camera

Of course, this comes as no big surprise, but it is amusing - a news reporter in Japan used a photograph clipped from a magazine to fool an age verification camera system on a cigarette machine. Link to the Daily Irrelevant post.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Human Auditory System: Experimental tinnitus treatment

Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have developed an experimental treatment to help sufferers from tinnitus (also known as "ringing in the ears"). They report that they have successfully treated one patient using a technique known as frequency repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The treatment scheme involves multiple sessions of this magnetic stimulation with the location of the magnet coil being determined from a PET scan, which is an imaging technique used to see inside of the brain.

The ScienceDaily article says that 17 percent of Americans suffer from tinnitus, but I am not sure what that statistic means - is it "suffer from at some point in their lives", "continually suffer from" or what? It seems from anecodatal evidence to be "continually suffer", but that is besides the point. It will be a step forward if they have developed a safe and effective treatment.

Follow-up: I was speaking to an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist the other day and asked about this statistic of 17% of Americans suffering from tinnitus. He said that that statistic was compiled from medical records - in other words, the number of patients that reported tinnitus symptoms to their doctors. I unfortunately did not think to ask him at the time whether the raw data was then adjusted to account for other factors or not. He also said that taking certain prescription medications, such as Cipro, can result in long-term or permanent tinnitus and that the chances increase if the patient has existing hearing loss (presumably age- or exposure-related).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Human Speech System: Woman acquires new accent after stroke

ScienceDaily (USA, online research news site) reports on a case in Canada of a woman who developed a new accent after having a stroke. This is a recognized medical condition known as the "foreign accent syndrome". What struck me about this particular case is that
  1. the subject had not been exposed to the newly acquired accent before
  2. the new accent was still in her native language (english)
  3. even after two years of therapy, the new accent persists
I'm not a specialist in brain science, although I do follow it out of curiosity, but it seems to me that this case brings into question exactly how independent or dependent human spoken language accents are on our common brain structures. It seems to beg the question whether the speech-motor area in the brain puts constraints on the formation of accents, and, assuming it does (which seems reasonable), then how much? Is it entirely a matter of coincidence that the damage to her brain resulted in a new, but recognizable, accent? Why not some accent that was unrecognizable? Does the speech-motor area have some type of built-in presets that directly lead to or indirectly influece the development of different accents?

But what does this have to do with forensics, you might ask? Well, for starters consider voice comparison and subject profiling both rely directly and indirectly on understanding how the speech-motor area functions and how accents develop. Fascinating stuff!

Human Auditory System: Beaming sounds into your head

Journalist David Hambling has written in New Scientist (UK, center-left, popular science magazine) and Wired (USA, center-left, popular technology magazine) about the on-going development of a technology to beam sounds into a person's head using microwaves. This technology is not immediately of practical benefit, judging by the articles, but it is a bit of fun reading.

What I took away from these articles is that there are potential (probable?) health risks when used a high power levels, such as in crowd control applications, so researchers are looking at where it might be useful in low power applications - advertising is mentioned, of course.

As an aside, I noticed the continuation of a pattern that seems to appear with all less-than-lethal "weapons" (i.e. those technologies that seek to incapacitate, drive-off, etc, rather than kill the subjects) - namely, once you label a technology or technique as "less than lethal", this seems to consistently bring with it the hard requirement that it be 100% less-than-lethal in all conditions. Taken to its obvious conclusion, this pattern will make most, if not all, less-than-lethal development projects go bust at some point, for better or worse.