The Iris Has It

by Matt Gallagher

Red Herring Journalist

Is Big Brother here? See for yourself. Look him in the iris.

The biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced plans today to roll out iris scanning technology to create, in its own words, “the most secure city in the world.” According to the technology news site Fast Company, it has partnered with Leon, one of the largest cities in Mexico boasting a population of more than 1 million people, to fill the city with eye scanners. Criminals will have their irises scanned automatically immediately upon processing, while scanning remains voluntary for law abiding citizens.

It’s the future. Welcome to it. Eye scanning technology is here, creating game changing implications for law enforcement, banks and marketers across the board. Within a decade, you’ll no longer have to carry your ID to the bar or your bank card to the ATM, as the truth of your identity will be right there in your eyeball.

Whenever residents in Leon use public transportation, visit a bank or ATM, they’ll have their irises scanned. Police will search a data base of collected iris scans, mostly from arrested criminals, that they will use to monitor activities potentially involving criminals. GRI is currently shipping scanning devices to the city, to be used by law enforcement forces at security checkpoints, detention areas and police stations in the first phase that will cost roughly $5 million. The second phase will take place in the next three years, as the scanners will be placed in banks, on mass transit and medical centers, as well as other public and private locales.

The major difference in GRI’s technology, as compared with previously existing iris scans, is speed and movement. While previous models took 30 seconds to scan an eye, GRI’s scans take less than a second, and can be done in motion. Devices range in size, some which can record the irises of 50 people per minute, to smaller scanners that can catch 15 to 30 people per minute. You can already picture  Winston Smith donning the dark glasses for his next date.

In certain spaces, eventually, you’ll be able to have maybe one sensor the size of a dime, in the ceiling, and it would acquire all of our irises in motion, at a distance, hundreds- probably thousands as computer power continues to increase- at a time,” said Jeff Carter, chief data officer of GRI, in a recent interview with Fast Company.

The technology has obvious potential at airport security checkpoints, but it can be applied across the board. It could feasibly be used to scan the eyes of commercial truckers, for instance, to decipher whether they’ve been driving on the road too long.

Aside from capturing the movements of criminals, the technology can also be used to track the movements of consumers.

But what’s important for advertisers is that this technology will determine your geo-location based on the iris acquisition and your spatial location,” Carter said. “Where are you in that space? And, based on how you are looking and moving, and your acceleration, what is your intent? In a retail environment, determining intent will be very important. Are you coming into the store? Are you leaving? Do you have packages? Are you looking at a sign? A sale? Matching that intent based on a lot of preferences that are all opt-in. …If you ever purchase signage at airports, they’ll give you lots of metrics on how many people walked past the sign each day. You can kind of guess what that means in terms of sales. It’s very nebulous. We’re going to make that very scientific.”

While privacy concerns already have the public twitching as information gleaned from sites like Facebook and FourSquare are used as consumer marketing demographics, this technology, like social media, isn’t going away. Like Facebook, the iris scans are optional, at least until you see the flashing red and blue. If an eye scan means you can leave your ID at home for the next happy hour, however, flashing the bartender your pretty blue eyes may just become another sign of the times.

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