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Voice Instead of PIN
August 1, 2014   
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Scientists from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow have developed Poland’s first voice-based identification system.

Scientists around the world are working on such systems, which are needed wherever someone’s identity has to be verified over the phone—for example in banks. Systems of this kind are already used in the United States and Canada, and they have also appeared in several European countries. In Poland they are still being tested.

The Cracow system has been developed by Jakub Gałka, Ph.D., together with a team of scientists from the AGH University of Science and Technology aided by engineers from the Unico Software company from Cracow. The system, called VoicePass, is being tested in several institutions. “I hope it will soon be available to customers,” says Gałka.

The system will come in handy in call centers, banks, telecommunications companies, insurance companies, and brokerages as well as in mobile devices such as smartphones.

“Imagine a banking application that requires confirmation of identity before you can make a transfer,” says Gałka. “The use of voice biometrics here would be a much more convenient solution than keying in your PIN or password. It could also be used in websites where you just say the password out loud instead of typing it in. The project includes building an electronic door lock that can be opened with a spoken command.”

Together with VoicePass, the scientists have also developed a system for the identification of speakers at meetings and conferences. The system, called Surikate, recognizes who takes the floor and when during a meeting. The name of the person is displayed on a monitor.

People who use the system provide a voice password, which can be the same as that of other users because it is not the content of the password that counts but the distinctive features of an individual’s voice.

The password should contain at least a few words. The more sound material there is for analysis and the longer the statement, the more effective the verification process. Such systems are based on characteristics associated with the physics of speech, resulting from the frequency of a voice and the anatomy of an individual’s speech organs, such as the size and shape of their larynx.

“The distinctive features of every human being can be measured, although not all of them are discernible,” Gałka says.

Other unique features are related to how we speak and what we say—how we accentuate words, how fast we utter them, how we choose words, what kind of intonation we use, and whether we take a breath often and make breaks between words. These features vary from one speaker to another.

The precision of identification methods has increased substantially in recent years. Despite fears, this method is a safe way of protecting access to money in an account and of protecting personal data. “It’s much easier to pretend to be someone else by, for example, stealing their social security number or by finding out their mother’s maiden name. Acquiring such data is much easier than forging the person’s voice and imitating their biometric features,” says Gałka.

Voice identification is convenient because it does not require any additional sensors. All other biometric verification methods, such as iris identification, require the installation of a special scanning device. In voice biometrics, everyone has such a device in their pocket—a mobile phone.

The VoicePass system has been developed by the AGH University of Science and Technology together with Unico Software as part of the Biometric Voice Verification and Identification project under the Applied Research Program run by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR).

Olga Majewska
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