No More Typed Passwords, Berkeley Researchers Develop “Passthoughts”

“Instead of typing your password, in the future you may only have to think your password,” explains a UC Berkeley School of Information press release about new research that utilizes brainwaves to authenticate users instead of passwords of numbers and letters. With a $100 consumer-friendly brainwave-reading headset, the Neurosky MindSet, Professor John Chuang found that the mere task of concentrating on one’s breath was enough to uniquely identify them.

Brainwave devices, or Electroencephalograms (EEG), measure electrical activity along the scalp, in the form of wavelengths known to be associated with certain moods, mental states and behaviors. For decades, cognitive scientists have used EEG devices as therapy for a range of mental-health issues, from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to post-traumatic stress disorder.

As technological advances shrunk the size and cost of EEG devices, a small cottage industry of consumer products, like the Neurosky, have brought the possibility of therapy and mind-controlled computers into the home. The image above is our own Anthony Ha wearing Neurosky-enhanced cat ears that rotate when the user is paying attention.

The next phase of “passthought” research will reportedly focus on finding thoughts that are user-friendly. In one test, Chuang asked participants to imagine performing an action of their favorite sport, but “they found it unnatural to imagine the movement of their muscles without actually moving them.”

Before security hawks cheer the arrival of theft-proof passwords, researchers have been able to “hack” people’s minds. Another team at Berkeley found that they could extract data, such as ATM PINs, by identifying when users were thinking of familiar information.

So if passthoughts ever become mainstream, it might not be wise to have your signature thought be something incriminating … just think about handing off candy to a baby.