At a recent conference on speech technology, the question was asked: "How many computer users have never forgotten a password?"
Of course, we've all forgotten a password or two, or six. But we're now in the post-9/11 era, when "we will not make a distinction between national and personal security," says Dr. Judith Markowitz, an expert in speech authentication.
All kinds of ID checks and proofs will be required to enter or exit restricted areas (and important databases, not just airplanes or offices). We will need technology to speed - yet make secure - all kinds of access if Americans are to maintain their traditional freedom of movement and choice.
Speech recognition is designed to figure out what you're saying and then reply with a practical answer. Such a system doesn't know who you are, nor is it even interested.
But "biometrics," and more precisely, "voice authentication," can give a positive, direct identification of each person.
Too often, people share their PINs or passwords, either at home or at the office, says Dr. Markowitz. With biometrics, this can't happen because "it's my voice, my face, my fingerprint, my hand," she says.
Forget a password? If there is a biometric record of your voice, you can call, any time of the day or night, and ask for a new one. "Human identity at a distance," Markowitz calls it.
Get out a map and look for Scoby, Mont. The border crossing into Canada is staffed from 9 to 5. Otherwise, it's 70 miles to the next office open 24 hours. In 1997, the Immigration and Naturalization Service put in a voice authentication system. Locals, on either side of the border, could have their voice recorded. As a result they have 24 hour mobility - and drive less.