It was the fastest, most pleasant and most friendly clearance I ever had, passing through any immigration desk in the world. As the officer took my electronic passport from me, she said, “Please go through the corridor on your right.” I complied and immediately, a screen appeared in front of me. It read, “Welcome; Ekabo. Se dada lee de!” I was stupefied. “Ekabo,” is the Yoruba translation of “Welcome,” and “Se dada lee de” means, “I hope you had a pleasant trip.”
Before I could regain my composure, a smiling robot appeared in front of me and handed my passport back to me. “Gba iwe inrin ajo re,” (please have your passport), it said in Yoruba. I took back my passport and followed instructions to an electronic information board near the baggage collection point.
As I stood in front of the electronic board again, without any prompting, as if it read my mind, the following statement appeared on the screen, “Dr. Ben, you are once again welcome to our great country. In this airport and in many of the facilities in our cities, we use the most modern electronic identification system, called Total Identification System.
“Embedded in your e-passport is a chip which has stored in it, some information about you. This information is now being used to identify you. I hope your questions are answered.”
“Not quite,” I muttered to myself. There are about 7 billion people alive in the world today, millions must have lived before me, how anyone would pick me out from this complex crowd, identify me by name and even my native language was really shocking! Am I dreaming?”
The billboard was not done with me as it flashed another page for me to read, “Dr. Ben, you are unique and wonderfully made. Of all persons alive today and even those who have lived before you since the beginning of time, not one is like you. Your voice is special; no other fingerprints are like yours; no-one looks like you; speaks exactly like you; laughs like you; walks like you with your exact weight, height and mannerism. We use all these facts in our data base to identify you. Do please feel free to enjoy our country.”
I couldn’t move. My legs were stuck to the ground. Finger print identification, I knew had been in use for ages especially for those who couldn’t read or write. We had inked stamp pads for this purpose but it could be messy. Iris identification on the other hand can be done unobtrusively without the person being aware of it. As you stand in front of a sensitive camera, the photograph of your iris is captured and just like the fingerprints, passed through software which compares it with billions in the data base and matches it with yours. I have had this done at several Embassies when applying for visa.
What about voice recognition? I have paid very little attention to this but wait a minute! It is on my cheap handset. I have never used it because I was afraid. Would the system recognise my voice if I had a cold and my voice were altered? I wasn’t sure. I could easily lock myself out of my phone! I was, therefore, too timid to try it. So I decided to play safe by not activating it.
When I eventually found my bearing, I set out for the train to get to my hotel. True to the billboard, the systems were in use in the hotel. I received a personalised welcome at the reception desk. I was told I didn’t need any keys to enter my room. Would I be safe? I could see the number of my room as I approached it. There was no door knob. The surface of the door lit up as I stood in front of it, and in Yoruba appeared the message, “Ekabo o. Enjoy your stay,” and instantly swung open for me to enter. On the back surface of the door were instructions as to how to open and lock the door with my voice or my eyes.
The Total Identification System seemed to be heavily dependent on the iris recognition system. As an ophthalmologist, this poses some questions. What happens after surgery, some of which may modify the colour or structure of the iris? What happens in some diseases of the eye which may severely affect the iris? I believe the computer programmer is up to the task.
This is a repeat article and pure fiction. It was first published several years ago. The technology is, however, real and I believe, are all in use to make life more pleasant for us.