Emoji coming to a cashpoint near you
Forget your schoolboy French, or your hopeful Esperanto. If you want to be young and trendy it appears you've just got to learn to use Emoji.
Emojis are the things all the cool kids talk about. Old timers like me still think of them as smileys, the sideways smiling or winking faces made from a few keystrokes that some people liked to use to show their sarcasm was intended to be a joke. Others used a smiley after every sentence, suggesting their face was locked in a permanent rictus grin, and to be fair, there are folk who have the equally bad habit of using exclamation marks after every sentence, and I am not sure what that represents anatomically.
These sideways face representations were themselves simply crude versions of the smiley face drawing which had been in use for many years. The smiley notation became a little more respectable when it was given an intellectual sounding name, the emoticon. Now they are reinvented yet again, this time as Emojis, a Japanese word which means pictogram, and suddenly they are seriously cool.
Professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University says that Emoji is now the fastest growing language in the UK, whilst David Webber of Intelligent Environments says "Our research shows 64 percent of millennials regularly communicate only using emojis", (which makes you wonder how Intelligent Environments was able to conduct its survey). Millennials is itself one of those vague but trendy marketing terms, and presently means the with-it younger generation, but I guess sooner or later it will come to mean the clapped out resistant-to-change older generation. Good luck explaining that concept in Emoji.
The reason Intelligent Environments, a maker of financial services software, is talking about Emoji is because it has developed a mobile phone app which it hopes will be adopted by banks and which replaces the traditional online banking login with one where the PIN code is entered using Emoji characters. It argues that a four digit PIN code has just 10,000 possible permutations whereas a PIN code chosen from the 44 emoji characters in its app would have 3.7 million permutations, and therefore be so much stronger.
If it is just the number of permutations which is the security problem, this can be solved more simply by letting people have longer PIN codes. Six digits would give a million combinations and would have the advantage that people could mentally group them into two sets of three digits which makes them easier to read and remember. Alternatively, if we are going to allow a keypad with other than numbers, we could just add in the 26 letters that people are already familiar with and those 10 digits plus 26 letters would give a very respectable 1.7 million permutations from four keystrokes.
There is some evidence that people remember pictures so much better than words or numbers, and pictures as passwords are not exactly new but there is no reason why we have to use emoji as the pictures. A simple password like ACDD could easily be expressed in pictures as Apple Cat Dog Dog, or if you prefer flags, Angola China Denmark Denmark. We often use word association to remember things. We all know Richard Of York Gains Battle In Vain as a mnemonic to the colours of the rainbow. Musicians who need to tune the four string ukulele to either GCEA or GDAE remember the two sequences with Goats Can Eat Anything, and Groaning Ducks Are Everywhere. If your doctor examines your injured hand and happens to mutter "Some Lovers Try Positions That They Cannot Handle", don't panic, he is probably just trying to remember the sequence of the bones in the wrist: Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetral, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate and Hamate.
Whenever something new and trendy appears in society, it seems the marketing men rush to incorporate it into the product and get press coverage for their pioneering insight. Is jumping on the latest fad, the emoji bandwagon, the solution to security issues? I say Unamused face, crying cat, speak no evil monkey!
24th June 2015
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