Tuesday, 24 September 2013
Elders and Fingerprint Technology
A long time ago, back in 2008, Crabby Old Lady was invited to speak at Gnomedex, a Seattle tech conference produced by Chris Pirillo that featured mostly tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts as both attendees and presenters.
So what was Crabby, age 67 at the time, doing there? She is glad you asked: she was talking to those young techies about how to make their hardware and software more elder friendly.
Crabby Old Lady doesn't have a lot of experience at public speaking to begin with and looking out at that sea of faces young enough to be her grandchildren made her nervous. But she needn't have been.
For the rest of the conference following her presentation, she had a bunch of fine conversations with those young people who were now taking elder design seriously.
It was very cool and although Crabby does not claim full responsibility, maybe she made a dent in some designer's thinking because a lot of hardware and software is much easier these days for old people to use.
Now, however, the issue has re-emerged due to a groundswell of news this past week about biometrics and it has Crabby thinking that although Gnomedex is no longer being produced, maybe she needs to find some other conference and do this all over again:
“Touch ID fingerprint sensor 'a potentially game-changing hardware feature' [writes] veteran technology reporter Walter S. Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal” as quoted at investorideas.com.
“iPhone Fingerprint Feature Renews Biometrics Debate,” headlines the Austin American-Statesman.
“The use of biological markers like fingerprints, faces and irises to identify people is rapidly moving from science fiction to reality,” chimes in The New York Times while calling on Congress to enact legislation to govern the use of biometrics vis a vis privacy.
Apple's new iPhone was released on Friday and it took only until yesterday, Monday, until some hackers announced they had cracked the device's fingerprint scanner.
Hacking and privacy issues aside, there is no doubt that using biometrics to lock up what people don't want others to see will become increasingly common and god knows Crabby is eager to give up the dozens of passwords she can't keep track of.
But maybe she and other old people won't be included because once again, the developers, designers, technologists, programmers and others working on fingerprint technology have failed to include elders in their homework and thinking.
As Crabby reported to you back in February, during a background check for some volunteer work she does, she became a fingerprint reject and was required to return to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office for a second go at it.
The reason is that old people's fingerprints are hard or, sometimes, impossible to scan:
”...fingerprinting did have significant engineering issues,' according to Ross Anderson, professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge [England] Computer Laboratory. ‘There are some people whose fingerprints you can’t scan,' he said, 'people like bricklayers and tilers whose fingers have been worn flat.
“‘Old people tend to have much less distinct fingerprints than young people for similar reasons,' he continued.”
The Scientific American website explains that
”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”
As much as Crabby Old Lady dislikes the necessity of having 40 or 50 passwords, she's going to hate it a whole lot more when she's trying to get money from an ATM or is “signing” for a credit purchase with her fingerprint and the machine can't read it.
But that is what's going to happen if fingerprint technology developers don't plan for millions of elders whose fingerprints will fail to register if a solution is not found.
Now, before fingerprint readers are widely adopted, would be the time to work on it. Or does Crabby Old Lady need to give another presentation?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Longevity