Voice prints make an impression

Voice prints are poised to be the application that brings biometrics into widespread corporate use in Australia.

While palm readings, fingerprint scans and facial recognition software have been restricted to specialist domains such as airports, casinos and other high security environments, voice verification technology is being assessed by banks, telcos and utilities as a real alternative to personal ID numbers and passwords.

Optus will trialling the technology later this year and banks are considering its potential, recognising it is highly secure as each voice box is unique, making it like vocal DNA.

Voice print technology is also ideal in the workplace to replace constant password reseting and voice enabled e-commerce provider VeCommerce is currently negotiating with a number of large organisations to deploy the technology in the enterprise.

VeCommerce managing director, Paul Magee, said there is a business case for automating the process of resetting passwords, because large organisations -- such as banks -- may have more than 10 IT staff generating new passwords every six weeks.

This means constant calls to IT by staff who have forgotten their new password, but voice prints allow employees to simply ask their computer for a new password.

"Users are still adapting to the process of speaking to a computer and taking instructions which is why banks are moving slowly in this space; they don't want to disrupt client comfort levels," Magee said.

Users have adapted to Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems which are now used for taxi bookings and a broad range of other applications, because it simply involves pushing buttons, but Magee said voice prints are the next step.

"Once users adapt to simply doing their banking or paying bills by simply talking to a computer they will enjoy the benefits of voice prints, which are highly secure; even if you have a cold or try to mimick different voice tones or accents your voice is still recognised," he said.

According to research firm Datamonitor the global IVR market will grow at 11 per cent per annum over the next three years to reach $1.3 billion in 2004. In a report entitled, The Future of IVR, Datamonitor warns voice applications are expensive and require a high level of customisation, but are ideal for automating customer service.

"There is good ROI, but significant capital investment means projects are delayed," the report said.

While voice verification has not yet been commercially deployed in Australia it has more possibilities than other biometric applications. The Home Shopping Network in the US, for example, uses voice verification to authenticate customer transactions.

Before joining VeCommerce Magee was involved in the roll-out of palm reading technology at a number of correctional facilities and the Family Law Court centre in Sydney.

"Palm readings are preferred to fingerprint scanning which is associated with criminals; users feel they are being treated like a criminal when they give a fingerprint, so palms are more user friendly," he said.

This reticence also applies to Iris scans, "because people are instinctively protective of their eyes", he said, but this technology has been deployed in some areas of defence in Australia.

Facial recognition has also emerged at airports and casinos using closed-circuit TVs to capture an image and compare it against a database of known images.

"But the more data you get the less it is used. We are on camera on the street, using ATMs and public transport, but it is unlikely you would review eight days of data to locate someone you knew recently caught a cab; that is a huge task," Magee said.

"Biometrics has been around a long time but its deployment is about user comfort levels and what personal information they are willing to give up for the sake of convenience."

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Sandra Rossi

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