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Smart Guns Stall

Despite a new law, technology that lets only a gun's owner fire it is suffering from anemic research funds and industry intransigence

6 min read

3 September 2003—New Jersey lawmakers can be labeled optimists, catalysts or fools when it comes to so-called ”child-proof” gun technology. Bolstered by state-funded biometrics research done at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT, Newark, N.J.), lawmakers got a popular but controversial, first-of-its-kind bill signed into law in December. The bill will make user-recognition technology for handguns mandatory once it has been developed. The state’s attorney general has been given the authority—though not yet the criteria—to decide when the technology should make the leap from the lab to the shelf. But now, eight months after it went into effect, little progress has been made toward commercializing smart guns, as research suffers from a lack of funds and an unethusiastic gun industry.

Work on user-specific or personalized gun technology began with mechanism that require users to enter a PIN code or wear a transponder (a ring or wristaband) to unlock the trigger. While some researchers are still trying to refine those techniques—especially for law enforcement use—NJIT and others are looking to design a smart gun for the common consumer with bump-in-the-night defense concerns. To make a smart gun simple to use, researchers have turned to biometrics, the science and technology of measuring and statistically analyzing biological data. A few companies have looked at fingerprint scanners for handguns, so far with limited success. Though researchers at NJIT say they are still open to all ideas, they have bypassed more established techniques in favor of an experimental biometric approach they call dynamic handgrip recognition. By measuring the pressure with which a person grips a gun in the milliseconds before firing, researchers hope to find a recognizable and unique signature.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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