The Extinction of Passwords

Currently, passwords are total chaos. In fact, most people have terrible passwords that are easy for hackers to guess. Even worse, many people use the same password for all their accounts, and they haven’t changed their password for years. So all a hacker has to do is guess the password once and they’ll have access to the user’s entire life. And while we were all advised to change our passwords after the recent Heartbleed attack, very few of us actually did.


Since we’re not really managing our passwords appropriately, it’s time to get rid of the hassle of passwords and use something with more data points and that is unique to each individual. This is where advanced biometrics comes into the picture. Thanks to advanced biometrics, we are getting close to making passwords go away ... and I say, “Good riddance!” Here are a few of the biometrics coming to your smart phone, tablet, or laptop soon.

• Facial Recognition: Today’s facial recognition is extremely advanced and can separate you from millions of other individuals very quickly. In fact, several years ago I developed an app for the military to use during emergency response situations. Using the app and cameras installed around the base, the military personnel can identify every person on the premises and know exactly where each individual is—all using facial recognition. In everyday use, you already have a high-quality camera in your smart phone that could interface with a facial recognition app. And since facial recognition for identification will be 3D rather than 2D, someone can’t hold up a picture of you to bypass the security. So this is certainly a great biometric that is much more secure than a password.

• Fingerprint Recognition: Apple already has fingerprint readers on their latest iPhone, and other manufacturers are following. Of course, we’ve been using fingerprint plug-ins for laptops at the enterprise level for many years. One of the more advanced fingerprint techniques emerging is to read the blood vessel pattern underneath your skin. Now that Apple has starting using this on their smart phones, this represents the beginning of a more widespread use of biometrics.

• Eye Recognition: Eye scans for identification have been around for a long time. Early versions used a laser to read the blood vessel pattern of your retina. Today, you don’t have to use a laser. All it takes to identify you is a simple scan of your eye with a light you will not even notice.

• Voice Recognition: Everyone’s voice is unique. So by just talking to your smart phone or into your computer’s microphone, you’ll be able to verify that you really are you. While voice recognition has not been covered much in the press, it’s coming on strong.

• Heart Rate Recognition: Just like the other biometrics, everyone’s heartbeat is unique. Soon your devices will be able to get your pulse from your thumb, just like a fingerprint reader, and use that to identify you.

• Behavioral Profile Recognition: This refers to how you behave when using your device. For example, how you type is unique to you, including your speed and cadence when typing. Another example is how you hold your phone when using it. Since our devices have so many different sensors embedded, it’s easy to determine whether you are really the one using the device.

The point of all these biometrics is to ensure you’re you when using your device and accessing your many online accounts. After all, if your credit card information is stolen or your phone or other device gets into the wrong hands, you want to make sure someone else can’t use it, especially with so much sensitive financial and personal data people store these days.

As I see it, we’ll soon use one biometric for simple password replacement for things that are not vital, but we will use multiple biometrics for things that need more security. For example, if I’m accessing my social media, I might use one biometric. If I’m using a credit card online, I might use two biometrics. If I’m logging into my bank account or doing a securities trade, I might use three or four biometrics to make it even harder for someone to get in and hack my account. And best of all, you won’t have to remember all those passwords. All you’ll have to do is use your own body’s biometrics.

So it’s time to say good-bye to passwords and hello to biometrics … and hello to a more secure online experience.

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Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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