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Surprising Science

What If Your Physical Body Was Your Password?

Proposed at this week’s D11 conference: A chip in the form of a daily pill that, when swallowed, turns a person’s body into an authentication token. Also offered: An electronic tattoo worn for a week at a time.

What’s the Latest Development?

At this week’s 11th All Things Digital conference — also known as D11 — Motorola Mobility executive and former DARPA head Regina Dugan presented two unconventional solutions to the problem of remembering passwords. The first was an electronic tattoo, containing an antenna and sensors, that authenticates devices when held up to them. The second was a pill containing an electronic chip that, once ingested, would send out an 18-bit signal from within the user’s body, such that only a touch would be needed in order to get into a locked phone or laptop.

What’s the Big Idea?

Wearable technology is growing by leaps and bounds, and the tech for both of the concepts presented by Dugan already exists to some extent. The tattoo was built using material developed in John A. Rogers’ flexible electronics lab at the University of Illinois, and ingestible sensors are already FDA-approved for medical use. While Dugan likened taking the pill to gaining a super power — “My hands are like wires, my arms are like alligator clips” — All Things Digital’s Walt Mossberg nervously mentioned Motorola’s parent company when handling the pill: “Does Google now know everything I do and everywhere I go?”

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