The iris-scanning cash machine

One day, several years ago when I was still a reporter at PA, I got the chance to go and see the "next generation" cash machine in action.

The idea was that no plastic card or PIN was required. You simply stood in front of the machine, it scanned your iris, and promptly recognized you and asked you what service you wanted.

I was taken into a large room full of trade show-style display stands. On one side was a series of desks with some serious computer equipment on them, and lots of cables and leads in a huddled mess underneath.

On the other side was a tall, black thing. Curved and slightly menacing. It had a small shelf about waist height, a slot above that, and blank black plastic panel at roughly face height - I say roughly, because the panel was elongated so that both short-arses like me, and tall people, could use it comfortably.

I was expecting to just get a demonstration, which is what I did get, but I didn't expect the people there to offer me the chance to have a go myself. They were keen to show how good their iris and speech recognition was.

So I was sat down in front of a small machine and told to lean forwards, placing my eye in front of a camera. Within seconds they had an image of my iris on one of their computer monitors. They linked this image to a data file about me - adding my name, and a sum of 100 fictional pounds.

"That's it," said the demo man. "You can try it for yourself now."

So I walked over the menacing machine and stood in front of it. A soft light appeared somewhere behind the black panel. A (badly) synthesized voice said: "Hello Giles, how can I help you?"

I had not been told how to phrase my request.

I said: "I'd like to check my balance please."

There was a pause, and the machine said: "You have 100 pounds. Would you like anything else?"

I was taken aback. This was much cleverer than I had expected.

"Um, I'd like 50 pounds cash please."

The machine said: "Please take your money," and out of the slot popped some blank pieces of paper, cut to the same size as 10 pound notes.

Why write this down now? Having seen Minority Report a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of it. The technology seemed to work so well in the demo, I'm surprised it hasn't made it to the High Street yet.

(31st July 2002)