Ever since the use of papyrus in ancient times, the way people write has been a fascinating curiosity known as graphology or the study of physical characteristics and patterns of handwriting. The first book on handwriting analysis appeared in 1575 and was written by the renowned scholar Juan Huarte de San Juan.
In modern times, how much does one reveal when typing on a keyboard or device? Quite a lot, it turns out.
During World War II, military intelligence successfully identified the rhythm of morse code to distinguish allies from enemies. Even in the mid-1800s, based on the typestyle, telegraph operators' identities could be revealed.
How we interact with devices divulges a series of unique patterns, which, when analyzed, can reveal our age, gender, personality, state of mind, IQ, and, in a nutshell, who we are—our identity.
The technology that captures and analyzes typing patterns is known as typing biometrics. Over the last few years, typing biometrics has seen rapid growth and is quickly gaining momentum. The use cases and industries they apply to are endless. The popularity of this technology could be guaranteed by a faulty technology that might soon be obsolete, illegal, and replaced for good: facial recognition.
Most smartphones today incorporate facial recognition, which is a great alternative to other biometrics such as fingerprints. Still, more and more people today see facial recognition as a faulty method to authenticate individuals and a very easy to use tool for mass surveillance.
Facial recognition was first introduced to devices in 2005 by OMRON Corporation. The breakthrough method of authentication easily spread from personal devices to private and public organizations using it for various applications.
One successful use case was proctoring online courses and exams. It didn't take long to notice the racial bias in facial recognition technology, with several studies conducted by governmental research or universities debunking the myth of secure facial recognition. A reliable, unbiased alternative was needed.
In the worst case, the failure rate on darker female faces is over one in three for a task with a 50 percent chance of being correct. In the best case, one classifier achieves flawless performance on lighter males: 0 percent error rate. - The Gender Shades Project
Another alarming toll of this technology is individuals' privacy concerns. More and more people around the globe criticize the technology because it can be used to infringe human rights or civil liberties and for mass surveillance.
In June 2019, law enforcement agencies held the most substantial chunk of the facial recognition technology on the market. And according to a new bill—the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, which was introduced to ban the use of facial recognition technology by federal law enforcement agencies—this will change.
Also, as of June 2020, tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM have decided to stop the research, use, and selling of facial recognition technology at least until stronger laws have been enacted to ensure safe deployment.
In addition to physiological biometrics (e.g., fingerprint, facial identification, and retina scans), there are other metrics that measure human behavior characteristics called behavioral biometrics.
Broadly, behavioral biometrics represent uniquely identifying and measurable patterns in individual interaction with devices. These behaviors are virtually impossible to imitate due to the innate nature of their characteristics. Powered by machine learning algorithms, typing biometrics technology is able to learn about a variety of pattern elements that are unique to the individual.
The prevalence of typing biometrics in the future is also highlighted by the shift in modes of human interaction. According to research by the American Psychological Association, people favor typing over talking. Since 2014, much of oral communication has transitioned to text-based communication, and now 75% of individuals under 30 prefer written communication over phone calls. Also, keyboards are widely available in any household and are present in most technologies today.
Since facial recognition opens a playing ground for other biometrics in authentication, typing biometrics can do more and thus are intriguing due to their versatility and broad use cases.
As previously noted, the technology can be used to analyze the way people are. The complexity of the human mind and body is yet to be understood. Still, the traces we leave when typing is quite revealing with respect to physical and mental traits.
This leads to a more complex analysis of more than just who we are but also how we behave. Just just like our DNA can tell a lot about our ancestry, reveal health conditions, and identify personality indicators, our typing similarly says a lot about us, including gender or IQ.
To illustrate, a new product called TypingDNA Focus, which is currently in the research phase can analyze data based on how people type on their keyboards and reveal information about their state of mind. A fitness tracker for the mind, Focus provides statistics about when users are tired, focused, or stressed, and that data can then be analyzed to enhance productivity.
Focus aims to help users better understand how and when they focus and gain visibility and control over the stressful periods during a day. Additionally, users get insights based on their typing behavior and see weekly trends, a breakdown of daily activity, a window into when they’re most engaged, focus levels, immediate mood analysis, and more.
This use case of typing biometrics is a natural response to the current state of individuals experiencing burnout, high anxiety, stress levels, and the inability to focus on tasks and get productive. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, stress over a long period leads to anxiety and depression, disorders associated with severe chronic diseases.
The fin-de-siècle neurasthenic, in whom exhaustion and innervation converge, uncannily anticipates the burnout of today. They have in common an overloaded and overstimulated nervous system.
Josh Cohen, psychoanalyst, and Professor of Modern Literary Theory at the Goldsmiths University of London.
Reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate depression will become a primary reason for disability worldwide by 2030, while more than 16% of the global population is already affected by it today.
Due to its innate nature, typing biometrics are virtually impossible to imitate, revealing each individual's unique typing pattern. Therefore, behavioral biometrics technology is suitable for medical research to address disease prevention. Recent medical advancements focus on analyzing any changes that occur in someone's typing pattern over time, which can sometimes indicate neurological system disorders, damage, or other transformations. Abnormal locomotions, movement patterns, or synergies have been described after CNS disorders, such as stroke or traumatic brain injury.
The aim here is to help patients suffering from different diseases or disabilities to rehabilitate and, in the future, even detect various anomalies that can indicate a specific disorder, assisting medical professionals in diagnosing their patients more effectively.
An alternative to privacy-intrusive surveillance technologies
Over the past decade, data protection and privacy-enhancing online and offline tools have gained momentum, and various public institutions are addressing the ban of intrusive surveillance technologies.
This approach may seem like a win for privacy and civil rights advocates who speak out against the use of facial recognition for mass surveillance. This sends an alarming global signal on the effects of the lack of regulation in facial biometrics and addresses the need for less privacy-invasive substitute technologies.
Given this context, typing biometrics represents a viable authentication solution for mobile and desktop without putting civil liberties at risk.
Suffice it to say that 2020 has ushered in challenges around innovation, digitalization, and adaptability.
Governments have been required to take an integrated cross-sectoral approach to prevent and minimize the impact of COVID-19. According to UNESCO, the changing education imperative comes after 1.38 billion learners have been impacted by national school closures worldwide due to the coronavirus.
The ability to verify a student's identity is a crucial part of an equitable and effective learning experience and process. Since most of the curriculum is currently online at all education stages, typing biometrics is a seamless, non-intrusive way to verify the course and exam participants' identities, allowing students to focus on learning—not the proctoring technology.
Looking ahead, typing biometrics will be present in our daily lives And it will also be found in complex use cases developed today that will shape the future for good, influencing our lives and while helping people explore the unknown areas of who we are.