At a recent demonstration in Toronto, a biomedical researcher slipped on a wristband and waved it at a laptop, watching as the computer recognized him and unlocked itself. Then he handed the same wristband to his research partner, who put it on and tried the same thing—but this time, the laptop didn’t respond.
Their product, the Nymi, knows who you are—and it can prove it. The wrist-worn device works like an electrocardiogram, measuring the electric signals that come from its wearer’s heartbeat and are as unique a signature as fingerprints. The bracelet can then wirelessly vouch for its owner’s identity for any nearby device that might ask.
The obvious application for a device like this is access: opening physical doors and getting beyond digital passwords. But Karl Martin, co-founder of Bionym, the company that makes the Nymi, has his sights on a bigger goal: “persistent identity”—the idea that the Nymi, or something like it, could make the wearer instantly recognizable to wireless devices everywhere, whether at home or at a coffee shop in London.
There are plenty of networks and sensors in the world, says Martin, but while they detect the presence of humans, they don’t recognize individual identities. “Our thesis is that it’s missing that personal human element: the user.” That’s a gentle way of saying it’s not just your smart fridge that’s going to become a node on the Internet of Things—it’s you. Your identity and, eventually, the very mechanics of your body, are becoming extensions of the Internet that can be tracked, analyzed and, inevitably, marketed to.