Wednesday, October 26, 2011

(empo-tymshft) When words change their meanings - an example from the biometric world

While we sometimes think of language as a static thing, it is in reality constantly changing. This is especially true for languages such as English that are widely used - my language is always incorporating terms from foreign languages, and is always inventing new terms - and new meanings for terms. If you don't believe me, take a time machine back to 2001 and ask Ashton Kutcher to tweet.

I work in the biometrics industry, and in that capacity I subscribe to various feeds and mailing lists. Among these is a private mailing list that often speaks of the science of biometrics. Therefore it was interesting when one of the participants (again, since this is a private list, I will not state the name of the person, although I don't think the person would mind) shared this with us:

Innerscope uses biometrics to understand the full scope of emotional reaction.

Huh? I could go to a crime scene and look at a fingerprint, and chances are I wouldn't be able to deduce anything emotionally (unless the fingerprint appears next to a hole smashed in the wall).

The quote above is from a press release that begins as follows:

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Oct. 21, 2011) - The British Columbia Chapter of the American Marketing Association (BCAMA) is pleased to announce the upcoming presentation on the use of biometrics for advertising evaluation by Ipsos. The event will take place on Thursday, October 27th, 2011 at 7:00am PT at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. To register for this event, visit or call 604.983.6AMA (6262).

The essential part of marketing is research and testing, which is applied to almost every stage of the product cycle. Psychology tells us that emotions play an important role in how we make decisions. Yet much emotional processing occurs below our level of consciousness. So there are limits to what can be measured in a survey about emotions. By the same token, if we can reach deeper to understand these emotions, it will provide even greater insight into what makes great marketing and great advertising. To achieve this promise, Ipsos has partnered with Boston-based Innerscope Research. Innerscope uses biometrics to understand the full scope of emotional reaction. Biometrics is a fascinating field that measures and analyzes our biological reactions (heart rate, skin conductance, respiration, movement) to decipher the emotional response to any stimulus.

"Biometrics is a branch of neuroscience that takes the measurement of emotions to a deeper level," said Indivar (Indy) Kushari, Senior Vice President, Ipsos ASI Toronto and presenter at the BCAMA event on October 27th. "It allows marketers to understand second-by-second the unconscious consumer responses to marketing elements they encounter, ultimately leading to greater insight into how brands and advertising are connecting with people."

Read the rest here.

Now those of us who work with fingerprint or palmprint identification, or facial recognition, or iris recognition, or DNA, or vein recognition, or gait recognition, or whatever might be scratching our heads after reading that. (Hmm...I wonder if people scratch their heads in a unique manner?) Lately our industry has been criticized for making decisions based upon emotions.

But another participant in the mailing list reminded myself and others that the meaning of the word "biometrics" has evolved over time. The International Biometric Society has posted this definition of biometrics:

The terms “Biometrics” and “Biometry” have been used since early in the 20th century to refer to the field of development of statistical and mathematical methods applicable to data analysis problems in the biological sciences. Statistical methods for the analysis of data from agricultural field experiments to compare the yields of different varieties of wheat, for the analysis of data from human clinical trials evaluating the relative effectiveness of competing therapies for disease, or for the analysis of data from environmental studies on the effects of air or water pollution on the appearance of human disease in a region or country are all examples of problems that would fall under the umbrella of “Biometrics” as the term has been historically used. The journal “Biometrics” is a scholarly publication sponsored by a non-profit professional society (the International Biometric Society) devoted to the dissemination of accounts of the development of such methods and their application in real scientific contexts.

Recently, the term “Biometrics” has also been used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition. Neither the journal “Biometrics” nor the International Biometric Society is engaged in research, marketing, or reporting related to this technology. Likewise, the editors and staff of the journal are not knowledgeable in this area.

So all of us fingerprint/face/iris/DNA/vein/gait/whatever people are Johnny-come-latelies to the use of the term "biometric." And I'm certain that some International Biometric Society members get angry every time they see a guy on a TV show talking about "biometrics" when there is no wheat field in sight.

For these people, the "CSI effect" is the effect of reduced rainfall on the corn sugar industry. And they probably get all emotional about it.

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