If you’re going to commit a crime be careful, because your fingers will soon betray you
Yes, our fingers. If you’re going to commit a crime, an infidelity, or something worse… be careful, because your fingers will betray you. It isn’t science fiction. The technology is already here, and a few years from now it will be widespread. Do you remember the precogs in Minority Report, who were able to predict crimes before they were committed so that the police would be able to arrest murderers before they acted? Well, they’re no longer necessary. Because we will betray ourselves through our fingers and alert the authorities.
15 of December of 2017
Think of how many keys you press every day. How many times you type on your phone, computer or tablet. It’s mechanical, isn’t it? Mechanical and brief. But that gesture we barely even think about may predict that we are about to commit a crime.
If fingerprints were a turning point in police methods to prove criminal guilt, and later on DNA was used as a failproof way of sending people who had left their biological trail at a crime scene to prison, the technology now emerging is neuroQWERTY… and it will revolutionise our lives. And, as with all technology, for both good and bad.
How does neuroQWERTY works?
NeuroQWERTY comes from the idea that our fingers are open windows to our mind, and this programme is helping researchers decipher its messages.
It’s all based on our keyboard footprint and how it changes, in the same way as changes in our body temperature tell us that something is wrong. Each person’s keyboard footprint is unique, just like our DNA or our fingerprints. In fact, the way in which we type is so personal that it has become one of the most secure ways of identifying someone. It will soon be used so that no-one can supplant our online identity, for example. This biometric footprint is comprised by our typing speed, our error repetition, the way in which we press each finger on each key, how long we take to fully press each key, the force with which we do this, or how long we take to release a key after pressing it. A process which lasts barely 100 milliseconds – a tenth of a second –, but which really gets our brain going, activating the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the basal ganglia and the cerebellum.
That keyboard footprint is unique to each of us. And, once established, a change in pattern may indicate many things: tiredness, illness, nervousness, excitement, or that it’s actually not us but rather someone using our identity – someone pretending to be us on the internet or typing our credit card to buy something.
A programme called neuroQWERTY, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, the most advanced technological institute in the world), is in charge of decoding all that data. In a test with institutions and volunteers from many countries – including Spain – they are attempting to detect Parkinson’s disease through the keyboard footprint up to ten years before the first symptoms appear. Imagine what that could mean if medicine continues advancing at such a pace as to be able to slow down or even stop the disease from developing. To stop Parkinson’s without having shown any symptoms.
And Parkinson’s is only the first step. NeuroQWERTY is the thermometer, and all it takes now is to adapt the rules to other illnesses. Or to crimes. It could be done. As a matter of fact, in the thriller “No soy un monstruo” (I’m not a monster), neuroQWERTY takes that step and goes even further. The Spaniard responsible for the study, Julio Mayol, gave me the pointers on how to use it in another way. I asked him whether the programme could detect a suicide bomber before committing an attack. ‘It’s possible’, he said, ‘because his/her keyboard print will change due to anxiety or nervousness.’ And that’s what two of the characters in the novel do: they obtain the keyboard footprints of hundreds of Jihadi sympathizers – through what they write on online forums –, and use this to detect the changes that indicate they are about to blow themselves up, and so arrest them in time. But the novel goes further. Is it possible to predict when a paedophile will assault their next victim?
You’ll have to read ‘No soy un monstruo’ to find out.
Can you imagine the possibilities all this brings?
Think of the precogs in Minority Report: they’re already here. Only they’re not mutated humans in a special bathtub previsualising crimes that haven’t yet been committed. They’re our fingers. And we can’t fool them.