“Open Sesame! Your Voice is My Command”

How the unique sound of your voice may provide more security than a written password

Today is World Password Day, and I can’t help but reflect on my youth growing up in Dubai and how the stories of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” fascinated me. Both involve caves, with Aladdin lured into one by a magician and Ali Baba gaining access to another (where the forty thieves have hidden a treasure) by reciting the secret password, “Open Sesame.” The trouble is, once inside the cave, he forgets the password and ends up trapped inside!

Written in the year 1704, the fable parallels the reality of today, where many of us struggle to remember several key passwords, some complex and some as simple as Open Sesame. In fact, a recent study conducted by Nuance, a leader in advanced artificial intelligence for enterprise, healthcare and automotive industries, revealed that among the average consumer, who has 12 online accounts, 44 percent forget their passwords once a month.

Though we’ve come a long way with our PINs, passwords and fingerprints, there’s still lots of room for improvement. In 2018 alone, the U.S. lost $7.91 billion to cybercrime. The year before, the pandemic cost the world $600 billion. And just recently, Facebook announced that 50 million users’ data was confirmed at risk, with no way of figuring out exactly how it happened or how to prevent it in the future.

Particularly as technology evolves and cyber threats and hacks rapidly increase, people want security. They also want convenience. Not to suggest people were better off in the 1700s, but research from Nuance indicates that the human voice, because of its uniqueness to each of us, may very well be what’s required to provide the kind of security a written password has not been able to accomplish.

What I have recently learned is that those spoken magical passwords like Open Sesame are part of a biometrics solution being deployed throughout hundreds of organizations around the world. Helping to verify the identity of millions of individuals on a daily basis during conversations with an interactive voice response (IVR) system, it’s a tool that is almost infallible, even for someone like me who has a pretty distinct accent. I just speak a simple passphrase. The system recognizes me by my unique voice and validates my identity. When I am using automated response prompts over the phone (as I do with banking), there’s no repeating necessary for the virtual assistant to comprehend—and I don’t have to retype passwords over and over when I forgot them.

Of course, there’s still the issue of memory (as demonstrated by Ali Baba), which we will need to address as our attention spans continue to shrink in the Information Age. But that’s another story… In the meantime, as Aladdin discovers, there is a genie waiting to fulfill our wishes on command. But instead of rubbing a magic lamp, all we will need is the sound our own voice to unlock whatever virtual door stands in our way.