Hollywood movies like Terminator, Mission:Impossible and James Bond tales have heralded biometrics technology for years. Hand scanners, iris recognition and voice recognition, in particular, have taken pride of place. (Robb 2002 p13)
Science fiction, in all of its forms, has a unique way of suggesting new technologies and critiquing or analysing those in existence. From the writings of Philip K. Dick to long-running television series’ like Star Trek, science fiction is serving a dual role within the world of science. It is both glorifying and exploring the potential for technological and scientific innovation while at the same time examining the ethical and social ramifications that may arise from such scientific development. In this way it both inspires and challenges scientists in a very direct way. In this essay I will examine the evolution of Biometric Technology and the impact that science fiction has had on its development and reception.
Biometrics, defined by Ronald Hall as “the development of statistical and mathematical methods, which are applicable for the analysis of data problems in the biological sciences. It also refers to the technologies for measuring and analyzing an individual’s characteristics in terms of physiological and behavioural characteristics.” (2008 p118) The origins of the term are from ancient Greek and literally translate to ‘life measure’. The history of biometrics can be traced back as far as the fourteenth century when it was used by merchants in China where thumbprints and other anatomy measurements were used as a method for identifying and keeping track of customers. (Hall 2008) In more recent times Bertillionage emerged from Paris in the latter part of the 19th Century. Developed by a police clerk called Alphonse Bertillion, Bertillionage was a new method of identifying people by taking measurements of their body. (Kaluszynski 2001) Although these techniques of measuring various dimensions of the body as identifying data were not the advanced technology we have come to think of as biometrics, it is easy to see that today’s biometric technologies have evolved from the principles of these early techniques.