Life in the Information Age requires passwords, and lots of them. These passwords, in theory, do us a great service: they protect our email, Facebook, and bank accounts from identity theft and hackers. But as more sites demand stronger and stronger passwords, the exercise of creating one becomes more unpleasant. Last year, researchers at Ottawa’s Carleton University studied the issue, and found that the computer industry’s approach to passwords puts too much work on the user. Plus, you can never win: Make them all the same, and you’re vulnerable to identity theft; make them all different, and you’ll surely forget most of them.
As Ian Urbina wrote in 2014, “few modern activities…are more universal than creating a password.” But there’s nothing natural about these passwords. Think back to the Greeks, who used one of the first known passwords in 413 BC during a battle in the Peloponnesian War. It was a codeword used to identify each other, and it was spoken, meaning it carried no trace of mandatory numbers, capital letters, or special characters. Those are requirements placed on humans by the computer industry, and can be dated back to 1961, when researchers at MIT built the Compatible Time-Sharing System computer. That computer required a login, which would expire after four hours. (It wasn’t bulletproof: In 1962, a PhD student who wanted more time on the computer found the register of passwords and simply printed them out, giving him unfettered access to the machine.)
Humans have evolved around technological demands, but that might be set to change as our devices, and the companies who make them, start putting humans at the center of their innovations. An example of this approach was the 2003 unveiling of Fujitsu’s swipe sensor technology, which uses more natural hand gestures in lieu of passwords. Last year, Fujitsu launched smartphones and tablets featuring the same technology.
Perhaps one of the most notable, widespread shifts in personal security occurred when in 2013 Apple outfitted every iPhone 5s with fingerprint recognition sensors. Indeed, this feature allows for a more natural interaction for the user, but still requires a small level of physical contact. Fujitsu’s iris scanning authentication system doesn’t even require physical contact: users can unlock their smartphones just by looking at the screen. An infrared camera and LED on the face of the phone can scan the unique patterns of a user’s iris and use that data to decide to unlock or not.
Scan the market, and it’s clear that, like Fujitsu, other tech companies are considering more human-centric designs. This year has seen the introduction of an authentication system that uses face, eye, and fingerprint recognition for security and other projects that would use a hyper-sensitive series of sensors to not only detect your fingerprint, but your keystroke and speech patterns, for security. Yet another biometric technology startup called Bionym released a wristband that takes your pulse and automatically converts your unique heartbeat pattern into a password of sorts that can unlock phones and tablets. Fujitsu has also developed a similar method, with its PalmSecure technology, which uses vein patterns to recognize users. It’s already in action in Brazil, where it’s being used to replace PINs at Banco Bradesco.
As these new technologies go mainstream, a paradigm shift will take place. A very small, but often aggravating, part of your day will be eradicated: entering your password. You’ll adapt less to technology as it starts to better conform to you.
This article was produced on behalf of Fujitsu by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.