Futures Centre: Disruption

Disruption

Digitisation

Digitisation

Digitisation is the conversion of an object, data or image into an electronic format.

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Connection

Connection

Connectivity means greater productivity, but also increased vulnerability.

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Automation

Automation

New kinds of physical and intellectual tasks are being performed by machines.

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Material Manipulation

Material Manipulation

Technologies enabling digitisation, manipulation and reproduction of the material and biological environment.

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Augmentation

Augmentation

Machines and humans are being linked up to bolster physical and mental capabilities.

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Five fast-paced ‘future technology’ trends — digitisation, connection, automation, material manipulation and augmentation — are emerging that have the potential to disrupt international society, crime and policing.

Digitisation

Digitisation is the conversion of an object, data or image into an electronic format. Its power is that it creates a common language.

Data about ideas and behaviour can be stored, analysed and shared on a mass scale, just like data about the physical world. Money, legal contracts and the code of life itself (DNA) can all be digitised.

Digitisation lies behind the explosion in ‘big data’. By 2020 there will be 10 times the amount of digitised information as there was in 2013. This data explosion creates new types of value by helping organisations do everything from predicting buying behaviour to fighting crime. It is shifting the concept of value from physical and social assets to digital assets.

"We had these rogue employees or officers that were able to do these things," Cesar Virata, corporate vice chairman of RCBC Savings Bank, said. "It can happen to any bank."

‘Why do you rob banks?’ a journalist once asked the American criminal Willie Sutton. ‘Because that’s where the money is’, he allegedly replied. Crime moves to where the value is. Criminal organisations are ‘going digital’ to capture value and financial profit. By leveraging data, they will be able to create new ways of capturing value at a previously unforeseen scale. Their intention may be to steal, accrue, manipulate, or delete data or hold it to ransom.

Further reading: New York is testing facial recognition technology at bridges and tunnels

Connection

Connectivity means greater productivity, but also increased vulnerability.

The internet has changed the way humankind functions. In its pervasiveness, the internet has altered the way people communicate and the way they form and develop relationships. It has redefined language, concepts of privacy and how people work, play and relax. It has changed the way they do business and exchange information, how they shop, bank and navigate and importantly, how (and who, or what) they trust.

There is no evidence to suggest that the development of the internet is slowing. Indeed, its geographical reach is expanding, thanks to 4G and 5G connections. Approximately half of the world’s population are now connected to the internet – most via their mobile phones. It is estimated that by 2020, 90 per cent of all people over the age of six will have a mobile telephone.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the name given to the networking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and network connectivity that enable them to collect and exchange data. Potentially, every device, building and phone will be permanently connected to humans, to other devices and to the internet.

A drone in the USA was used outside a room to hack its smart lightbulbs. Since then, Philips has issued a patch for better security.

The IoT allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems and offering improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit. Industry experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020. This world offers incredible opportunities, but also exposes society to increased vulnerabilities, many of which cannot yet be identified.

The internet has made it easier for factories and other plants to automate operations using industrial control systems. Some sources, however, estimate that 92 per cent of such systems have known security vulnerabilities.

The future world will be more convenient and responsive to people’s needs, but there will be a trade-off between convenience and the vulnerability of our connected devices, the dimensions of which we do not yet fully understand. Individual privacy will face unprecedented challenges and protecting it will become a significant issue for individuals and governments.

Connectivity is extending the geographical reach and scalability of crime.

The interconnectedness of digital communication and physical hardware is extending the reach of crime. Criminals around the world can collaborate securely online. Not only can they carry out new types of crime, but they can do so from a distance and at greater scale. One person armed with malware can commit a crime against millions of people in multiple jurisdictions. Criminals can search for the weakest link in a network of connections and then then use it to access the wider network.

Encryption and the ‘darknet’ will result in crimes involving multiple systems, actors and technologies across jurisdictions. Next-generation devices with ESIM functionality (mobile devices with embedded inbuilt SIM card) allow the end user to subscribe with one or more mobile virtual network operators, or physical network operators, typically located in a different country from the end user. Commercial encryption and mobile virtual network operators will assist criminal global logistics by making the transnational movement of value and digitised goods difficult to detect.

Perhaps the most significant harm, including potentially to state revenue, may come from criminal use of alternative banking platforms and virtual currencies. Distributed ledger technology (also known as ‘blockchain’) is likely to be highly disruptive to contemporary value transfer structures. It will transform the ability of criminals to move and hide their funds and digitised illicit goods, exacerbating the effects of globalisation on the state revenue base and making the burden of proof much heavier.

“You should be taking this technology as seriously as you should have been taking the development of the Internet in the early 1990s. ” Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings and former Managing Director of JPMorgan Chase, on blockchain technology

Automation

New kinds of physical and intellectual tasks are being performed by machines.

Improved power systems, new materials, advances in computing and manufacturing, and new, better algorithms are accelerating the development of robotics. Robots are becoming faster, stronger, cheaper and more perceptive, allowing them to engage with their environments and carry out increasingly complex tasks. The value of the output of the global robotics industry is expected to surpass $151 billion by 2020.

Associated with this is the development of artificial intelligence (AI), perhaps the single most revolutionary technology trend of the future. AI enables machines, through a combination of self-learning algorithms and computer systems, able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. Investment in AI start-ups has increased significantly in the last five years. Machines are rapidly challenging humans at learning, predicting and deciding.

Artificial intelligence is perhaps the single most revolutionary technology trend of the future.

In the same way that smartphones became widely available between 2006 onwards, robotics and AI will become cheap, easily accessible and deployable in the future. People will be sharing their worlds with increasingly smart machines that have a form of limited or governed artificial intelligence, minimising human intervention in areas that were previously considered beyond automation – for example, driving a car, investing money or teaching in classrooms.

In 2015, drone reports to police in the UK rose by 352%. Several nations are now implementing regulation and policy around drones for safety and crime prevention.

The introduction of autonomous and AI systems will, however, also give rise to complex new legal and ethical challenges. Criminals will be quick to adopt automated technologies, which will test traditional policing approaches. Robotic systems will make it possible to conduct person-less crime from remote locations, through an intermediary or via the internet. Anyone can download or buy pre-made malicious software packages online and get tips and DIY advice from underground websites or chat rooms; a single operator can carry out multiple, simultaneous attacks; a drone is capable of carrying an improvised explosive device; driverless cars can deliver bombs; an algorithm can set up phishing scams that steal banking information and then skim fractional amounts from millions of accounts so that it is unnoticeable. In 2008 ‘hacktivists’ copied and replicated the German Interior Minister’s fingerprint, encouraging use to impersonate the minister on biometric readers.

An Israeli cybersecurity lab has demonstrated how drones can steal data from just a blinking LED on a computer.

Predictions that automation will make humans redundant have been made many times, but going back to the Industrial Revolution technology has always ended up creating more new jobs than it destroys. However, the short- to middle-term disruption to society will always manifest and create challenges requiring policing and law enforcement responses.

Further reading: Drone reports to UK police soar 352%

Material Manipulation

Four technologies – digital manufacturing, nanotechnology, gene editing and synthetic biology – are enabling society to digitise, manipulate and reproduce nearly every aspect of the material and biological environment.

Digital manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) has rapidly advanced from producing cheap plastic gimmicks to enabling printing of almost any material, from carbon fibre to marble to human tissue. New methods of 3D printing such as laser sintering and stereo lithography are dramatically improving in the speed and accuracy of digital manufacturing. More powerful 3D scanning techniques allow for the capture of any object or scene in high fidelity and new light field camera technologies create entirely new possibilities for digital imaging. In the future, these technologies will be combined with advanced spectrometers to allow the reproduction of any object just by taking a picture of it.

3D printing will enable the production of high-quality goods and no longer require complex global supply chains and economies of scalei. Greater productivity, shorter lead times, fewer supply chain risks and lower environmental and financial costs will result.

Nanotechnology may enable people to rearrange molecules with atomic precision. Similarly, alchemy could enable the creation of new compounds, giving materials new properties – from self-healing buildings, to tiny robots in the bloodstream.

In the biological sciences, the last decade has seen the arrival of full genomic sequencing and new techniques for gene editing that make it very simple to 'cut and paste' DNA. It is already possible to create semi-synthetic life forms and alter existing ones such as crops and viruses. These technologies will enable us to cure many diseases, extend lifespans and improve overall health and quality of life.

However, as the technologies of material manipulation mature, they will make possible new and more effectual types of crime. Advanced 3D manufacturing will enable criminal syndicates to manufacture products and bypass established regulatory frameworks. This potentially has significant implications for the protection of intellectual property and taxation.

The ability of criminals to manipulate physical objects, change molecular structures and genetics and edit DNA has the potential to undermine traditional forensic signatures.

Augmentation

Machines and humans are being linked up to bolster physical and mental capabilities. New capabilities will produce unpredictable and possibly profound shifts in society.

New forms of interaction between people and machines will become available. These include virtual reality, which enables users to immerse themselves in a digital environment; augmented reality, which overlays the real world with digital information and images; machine-to-brain interfacing, which enables people to manipulate computers and machinery with their minds; and new forms of biological and chemical enhancement, which aim to greatly increase people’s intellectual and physical capabilities.

Augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality represent the next major wave of computing. That wave is coming quickly – there are already more than a million monthly users of virtual reality wearables. As these technologies develop, they will allow for a seamless interface between the physical and digital worlds. According to experts, within 15 years the bulk of our work and play time will touch the virtual to some degree. Systems for delivering these shared virtual experiences will become enormous enterprises, providing new mechanisms for people to connect with one another.

Mixed reality will be accompanied by other forms of augmentation. Brain-to-machine interfacing has already been used for transmitting thoughts across long distances, for controlling drones and for moving robotic limbs. Implantable devices, controlled by a neural interface, will be able to use chemical or neurostimulation to perform a wide range of tasks – from fighting diabetes to firing a gun more effectively. As the brain and body become increasingly blended with digital and physical technology, augmented communities of interest will begin to emerge in some parts of the world, with significant implications for security and privacy.

WARNING: The below video contains footage of graphic surgical procedures.

As early adopters of technology, operating in an ethically unconstrained environment, criminals will be among the first to experiment with augmentation, permitting the creation of stronger, smarter and faster offenders.

Further reading: Dutch police are trialling augmented reality as a way to investigate crime scenes. (New Scientist)

 

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