The Eyes Have It: Why Iris Scanning Rules

The company behind the Big Brother iris detection technology explains why it works so well — and how advertisers, retail stores and the government are going to use it to invade our lives.

The Eyes Have It: Why Iris Scanning Rules


Earlier today, we revealed the future of security and advertising — and how it will all fall under the watchful beam of an iris scanner. The company behind the technology, Global Rainmakers Inc., has big plans for the system, which is launching in the city of Leon, Mexico. To help wrap our heads around the project, we spoke with Jeff Carter, chief business development officer of GRI, to find out how it will change our lives.

Fast Company: Why did GRI choose iris scans?
Jeff Carter: Well, one of the big problems in corporate America is reference data–that is, all the data that is about us. We don’t have any way to link it all together. It’s one of the reasons why your bank account doesn’t reconcile until 48 hours later because there’s all this data behind it that they have to execute manually.

When you look at the ways to link the data together, biometrics is the obvious choice. With a fingerprint, for instance, there’s about 100 recognizable data points. For a really great fingerprint, you may get about 15 points–and that’s if it’s perfect. Of that, you only need 7 or 8 points to convict. So essentially, you only need 7 or 8 points across a huge population of people. It’s one of the reasons fingerprints is causing so many problems.

With iris, you have over 2,000 points. Those 2,000 points appear when you’re born. When you’re in your mother’s womb, your iris tears in a unique fashion. That tear stays constant until the day you die. If you die, and your body loses blood pressure, the eye flattens. So while a lot of what you see in Minority Report is very real today, the part about pulling out eyeballs is not real.

With those 2,000 points, you can create a unique 16,000 bit stream of numbers that represents every human on the planet. That provides a reference point that can connect everything you do in all aspects of life, for the first time ever.

What about other biometrics?
While fingerprints are not the best choice, they’ll be part of the landscape for years to come. India right now is doing the world’s first digital census. They’re collecting fingerprints, face, and iris. Face is important — our devices can capture face too. Voice biometrics are also huge. It’s how the CIA monitors communication across the globe. They sift through cell phones and create voice biometrics to find Al-Qaeda members, for instance, and hit them in their car later with a missile. That is not going away either.


All those biometrics are important, but what are the two biometrics that you can use for a program that spans the globe? DNA and iris. Obviously DNA can’t be captured from a distance. But that probably will happen in the not-too-distant future. So that leaves you with Iris.

What are some of the innovations of GRI’s iris technology?
Iris has been around for a long time. The technology that really everyone uses except us was developed by John Daugman. His understudy was Dr. Keith Hanna, who is one of our founders and chief technology officer. He also invented the yellow line in NFL football. Those two individuals are the top iris specialists in the world. Daugman really focused on matching. So, once you had an image of an iris, how you would match it across a billion participants to make sure you had the right one.

Here’s what is different with our technology. Hanna said, Anyone can match–it’s simply a numbers game. He focused on acquiring the iris. In motion. From a distance. Even with the technology in airports several years ago, you had to hold still for about 30 seconds so it could find you. If you moved, it would blur. Most all of our competitors have that same issue. Ours is different. You can move.

So we’ve even worked with three-letter agencies on technology that can capture 30-plus feet away. In certain spaces, eventually, you’ll be able to have maybe one sensor the size of a dime, in the ceiling, and it would acquire all of our irises in motion, at a distance, hundreds–probably thousands as computer power continues to increase–at a time.

Do you believe this technology will be more important for security forces or advertisers?
I just use advertising as an example because it’s something we all have experience with. But it’s really all aspects of life. I liken it to what happened when we went from radio to TV. It’s just a different world.


But what’s important for advertisers is that this technology will determine your geo-location based on the iris acquisition and your spatial location. So: Where are you in that space? And, based on how you are looking and moving, and your acceleration, what is your intent?

In a retail environment, determining intent will be very important. Are you coming into the store? Are you leaving? Do you have packages? Are you looking at a sign? A sale? Matching that intent based on a lot of preferences that are all opt-in.

How hypothetical is this technology?
It’s not hypothetical at all. The time I spent at MIT and Harvard, they’re already working on dramatic models that are able to determine intent from GPS and basic Web patterns. Again, an important concept to consider is that an iris fuses your digital and physical persona.

Right now, we can determine how many eyeballs are on a Web page. And what you look at and click. For the first time, we can do that in a physical world. If you look at this or that advertisement, and then go purchase the product advertised, we can tie those two things together.

Here’s an example. If you ever purchase signage at airports, they’ll give you lots of metrics on how many people walked past the sign each day. You can kind of guess what that means in terms of sales. It’s very nebulous. We’re going to make that very scientific.



About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.