State-of-the-art security technologies like retinal and facial scanning conjure up images worthy of a James Bond movie. Biometrics are quietly going mainstream, however, with practical nonsecurity applications that you don't have to be a secret agent to use.
Stories by Daintry Duffy
Gone are the days of secretive scribblings in a leather-bound diary. Today's preferred medium for personal expressions is the Web log -- a small, regularly updated online journal that combines a person's commentary with links to other content she recommends. For example, people who visit Salon.com no longer have to verbalize their vitriolic disagreement. They can chronicle their thoughts about an article -- or anything else for that matter -- in their own Web log, or "blog," on the site. Blogs are not just a forum for people who like to read their own words, though. Just ask the head of your marketing department.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would argue that improved airport security has made flying safer during the past year. However, more sensitive metal detectors and random security checks don't address the medical risks of flying from stress symptoms and dehydration to more serious maladies like blood clots and radiation exposure.
When passengers are packed into coach-class seats like sardines, the lack of mobility can lead to blood clots. Dr. Peter Degnan, an integrative medicine physician at Equinox Health and Healing in Portsmouth, N.H., advises flyers to select an aisle seat for additional freedom of movement.
Banks are keeping a careful eye on the money flowing in and out of their doors. In October 2001, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law, a measure that introduces a new wave of regulations to fight money laundering and organizations funneling funds to terrorist groups. The burdens the new law places on banks and financial institutions are creating a surge of interest in technologies designed to help companies identify potentially suspicious activity. TowerGroup, a financial services research company based in Needham, Mass., estimates the increased demand for anti-money-laundering (AML) technology will extend well into 2003, and that spending by U.S. banking institutions on such technologies will reach US$60 million this year.
The AML provisions of the Patriot Act do not mandate the use of specific technologies, but banks and other financial institutions would be hard-pressed to obey the new laws without them. Among other things, banks face a greater responsibility to verify customer identity. They must also produce all documentation related to specific accounts within five days of a regulator's request. There's also the complex and critical task of identifying suspicious transactions that can occur across multiple accounts and over long periods of time, making it difficult for a human to detect any pattern.
The modern citizens of the medieval, canal-dissected town of Brugge, Belgium, must have thought it strange to see packs of businesspeople following the dim green glow of cell phone screens through the city at twilight. What they were witnessing was a demonstration of one of the latest innovations in geographic information systems technology by Tele Atlas North America, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based digital data provider.
The first night in Brugge, the Tele Atlas conference participants divided into groups of 10 to 12 people, with each team given a cell phone into which they entered a code. What followed was dinner, entertainment and a tour of the city -- guided by the GPS-enabled cell phone. Instructions appeared on the screen, telling the participants to follow different streets and alleys as they made their way through the town. At certain destinations, the teams would enter location-specific information, such as the date on a 15th century guild house, to find out where the next course of their meal could be found.
Museums have long suffered from two major logistical problems: Space constraints allow only a small portion of their collection to be displayed at once, and the Herculean effort of building and rearranging exhibits makes it difficult for museums to be flexible and respond to current events.
To combat these pernicious problems, Motivo, a Columbus, Ohio-based company, has created the Configurable Tour, an application that lets visitors log on to a museum's website and create a virtual exhibit based on their particular interests, then print out a map to guide them around the museum floor.