Category Archives: IT

The future of biometric identification and authentication

If you work in IT security, the first part of this will not be news to you, skip to the section on the future. Otherwise, the first sections look at the current state of biometrics and some of what we already know about their security limitations.

Introduction

I just read an article on fingerprint recognition. Biometrics has been hailed by some as a wonderful way of determining someone’s identity, and by others as a security mechanism that is far too easy to spoof. I generally fall in the second category. I don’t mind using it for simple unimportant things like turning on my tablet, on which I keep nothing sensitive, but so far I would never trust it as part of any system that gives access to my money or sensitive files.

My own history is that voice recognition still doesn’t work for me, fingerprints don’t work for me, and face recognition doesn’t work for me. Iris scan recognition does, but I don’t trust that either. Let’s take a quick look at conventional biometrics today and the near future.

Conventional biometrics

Fingerprint recognition.

I use a Google Nexus, made by Samsung. Samsung is in the news today because their Galaxy S5 fingerprint sensor was hacked by SRLabs minutes after release, not the most promising endorsement of their security competence.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/samsung/10769478/Galaxy-S5-fingerprint-scanner-hacked.html

This article says the sensor is used in the user authentication to access Paypal. That is really not good. I expect quite a few engineers at Samsung are working very hard indeed today. I expect they thought they had tested it thoroughly, and their engineers know a thing or two about security. Every engineer knows you can photograph a fingerprint and print a replica in silicone or glue or whatever. It’s the first topic of discussion at any Biometrics 101 meeting. I would assume they tested for that. I assume they would not release something they expected to bring instant embarrassment on their company, especially something failing by that classic mechanism. Yet according to this article, that seems to be the case. Given that Samsung is one of the most advanced technology companies out there, and that they can be assumed to have made reasonable effort to get it right, that doesn’t offer much hope for fingerprint recognition. If they don’t do it right, who will?

My own experience with fingerprint recognition history is having to join a special queue every day at Universal Studios because their fingerprint recognition entry system never once recognised me or my child. So I have never liked it because of false negatives. For those people for whom it does work, their fingerprints are all over the place, some in high quality, and can easily be obtained and replicated.

As just one token in multi-factor authentication, it may yet have some potential, but as a primary access key, not a chance. It will probably remain be a weak authenticator.

Face recognition

There are many ways of recognizing faces – visible light, infrared or UV, bone structure, face shapes, skin texture patterns, lip-prints, facial gesture sequences… These could be combined in simultaneous multi-factor authentication. The technology isn’t there yet, but it offers more hope than fingerprint recognition. Using the face alone is no good though. You can make masks from high-resolution photographs of people, and photos could be made using the same spectrum known to be used in recognition systems. Adding gestures is a nice idea, but in a world where cameras are becoming ubiquitous, it wouldn’t be too hard to capture the sequence you use. Pretending that a mask is alive by adding sensing and then using video to detect any inspection for pulse or blood flows or gesture requests and then to provide appropriate response is entirely feasible, though it would deter casual entry. So I am not encouraged to believe it would be secure unless and until some cleverer innovation occurs.

What I do know is that I set my tablet up to recognize me and it works about one time in five. The rest of the time I have to wait till it fails and then type in a PIN. So on average, it actually slows entry down. False negative again. Giving lots of false negatives without the reward of avoiding false positives is not a good combination.

Iris scans

I was a subject in one of the early trials for iris recognition. It seemed very promising. It always recognized me and never confused me with someone else. That was a very small scale trial though so I’d need a lot more convincing before I let it near my bank account. I saw the problem of replication an iris using a high quality printer and was assured that that couldn’t work because the system checks for the eye being alive by watching for jitter and shining a light and watching for pupil contraction. Call me too suspicious but I didn’t and don’t find that at all reassuring. It won’t be too long before we can make a thin sheet high-res polymer display layered onto a polymer gel underlayer that contracts under electric field, with light sensors built in and some software analysis for real time response. You could even do it as part of a mask with the rest of the face also faithfully mimicking all the textures, real-time responses, blood flow mimicking, gesture sequences and so on. If the prize is valuable enough to justify the effort, every aspect of the eyes, face and fingerprints could be mimicked. It may be more Mission Impossible than casual high street robbery but I can’t yet have any confidence that any part of the face or gestures would offer good security.

DNA

We hear frequently that DNA is a superbly secure authenticator. Every one of your cells can identify you. You almost certainly leave a few cells at the scene of a crime so can be caught, and because your DNA is unique, it must have been you that did it. Perfect, yes? And because it is such a perfect authenticator, it could be used confidently to police entry to secure systems.

No! First, even for a criminal trial, only a few parts of your DNA are checked, they don’t do an entire genome match. That already brings the chances of a match down to millions rather than billions. A chance of millions to one sounds impressive to a jury until you look at the figure from the other direction. If you have 1 in 70 million chance of a match, a prosecution barrister might try to present that as a 70 million to 1 chance that you’re guilty and a juror may well be taken in. The other side of that is that 100 people of the 7 billion would have that same 1 in 70 million match. So your competent defense barrister should  present that as only a 1 in 100 chance that it was you. Not quite so impressive.

I doubt a DNA system used commercially for security systems would be as sophisticated as one used in forensic labs. It will be many years before an instant response using large parts of your genome could be made economic. But what then? Still no. You leave DNA everywhere you go, all day, every day. I find it amazing that it is permitted as evidence in trials, because it is so easy to get hold of someone’s hairs or skin flakes. You could gather hairs or skin flakes from any bus seat or hotel bathroom or bed. Any maid in a big hotel or any airline cabin attendant could gather packets of tissue and hair samples and in many cases could even attach a name to them.  Your DNA could be found at the scene of any crime having been planted there by someone who simply wanted to deflect attention from themselves and get someone else convicted instead of them. They don’t even need to know who you are. And the police can tick the crime solved box as long as someone gets convicted. It doesn’t have to be the culprit. Think you have nothing to fear if you have done nothing wrong? Think again.

If someone wants to get access to an account, but doesn’t mind whose, perhaps a DNA-based entry system would offer good potential, because people perceive it as secure, whereas it simply isn’t. So it might not be paired with other secure factors. Going back to the maid or cabin attendant. Both are low paid. A few might welcome some black market bonuses if they can collect good quality samples with a name attached, especially a name of someone staying in a posh suite, probably with a nice account or two, or privy to valuable information. Especially if they also gather their fingerprints at the same time. Knowing who they are, getting a high res pic of their face and eyes off the net, along with some voice samples from videos, then making a mask, iris replica, fingerprint and if you’re lucky also buying video of their gesture patterns from the black market, you could make an almost perfect multi-factor biometric spoof.

It also becomes quickly obvious that the people who are the most valuable or important are also the people who are most vulnerable to such high quality spoofing.

So I am not impressed with biometric authentication. It sounds good at first, but biometrics are too easy to access and mimic. Other security vulnerabilities apply in sequence too. If your biometric is being measured and sent across a network for authentication, all the other usual IT vulnerabilities still apply. The signal could be intercepted and stored, replicated another time, and you can’t change your body much, so once your iris has been photographed or your fingerprint stored and hacked, it is useless for ever. The same goes for the other biometrics.

Dynamic biometrics

Signatures, gestures and facial expressions offer at least the chance to change them. If you signature has been used, you could start using a new one. You could sign different phrases each time, as a personal one-time key. You could invent new gesture sequences. These are really just an equivalent to passwords. You have to remember them and which one you use for which system. You don’t want a street seller using your signature to verify a tiny transaction and then risk the seller using the same signature to get right into your account.

Summary of status quo

This all brings us back to the most basic of security practice. You can only use static biometrics safely as a small part of a multi-factor system, and you have to use different dynamic biometrics such as gestures or signatures on a one time basis for each system, just as you do with passwords. At best, they provide a simple alternative to a simple password. At worst, they pair low actual security with the illusion of high security, and that is a very bad combination indeed.

So without major progress, biometrics in its conventional meaning doesn’t seem to have much of a future. If it is not much more than a novelty or a toy, and can only be used safely in conjunction with some proper security system, why bother at all?

The future

You can’t easily change your eyes or your DNA or you skin, but you can add things to your body that are similar to biometrics or interact with it but offer the flexibility and replaceability of electronics.

I have written frequently about active skin, using the skin as a platform for electronics, and I believe the various layers of it offer the best potential for security technology.

Long ago, RFID chips implants became commonplace in pets and some people even had them inserted too. RFID variants could easily be printed on a membrane and stuck onto the skin surface. They could be used for one time keys too, changing each time they are used. Adding accelerometers, magnetometers, pressure sensors or even location sensors could all offer ways of enhancing security options. Active skin allows easy combination of fingerprints with other factors.

 

Ultra-thin and uninvasive security patches could be stuck onto the skin, and could not be removed without damaging them, so would offer a potentially valuable platform. Pretty much any kinds and combinations of electronics could be used in them. They could easily be made to have a certain lifetime. Very thin ones could wash off after a few days so could be useful for theme park entry during holidays or for short term contractors. Banks could offer stick on electronic patches that change fundamentally how they work every month, making it very hard to hack them.

Active skin can go inside the skin too, not just on the surface. You could for example have an electronic circuit or an array of micro-scale magnets embedded among the skin cells in your fingertip. Your fingerprint alone could easily be copied and spoofed, but not the accompanying electronic interactivity from the active skin that can be interrogated at the same time. Active skin could measure all sorts of properties of the body too, so personal body chemistry at a particular time could be used. In fact, medical monitoring is the first key development area for active skin, so we’re likely to have a lot of body data available that could make new biometrics. The key advantage here is that skin cells are very large compared to electronic feature sizes. A decent processor or memory can be made around the size of one skin cell and many could be combined using infrared optics within the skin. Temperature or chemical gradients between inner and outer skin layers could be used to power devices too.

If you are signing something, the signature could be accompanied by a signal from the fingertip, sufficiently close to the surface being signed to be useful. A ring on a finger could also offer a voluminous security electronics platform to house any number of sensors, memory and processors.

Skin itself offers a reasonable communications route, able to carry a few Mbit’s of data stream, so touching something could allow a lot of data transfer very quickly. A smart watch or any other piece of digital jewelry or active skin security patch could use your fingertip to send an authentication sequence. The watch would know who you are by constant proximity and via its own authentication tools. It could easily be unauthorized instantly when detached or via a remote command.

Active makeup offer a novel mechanism too. Makeup will soon exist that uses particles that can change color or alignment under electronic control, potentially allowing video rate pattern changes. While that makes for fun makeup, it also allows for sophisticated visual authentication sequences using one-time keys. Makeup doesn’t have to be confined only to the face of course, and security makeup could maybe be used on the forearm or hands. Combining with static biometrics, many-factor authentication could be implemented.

I believe active skin, using membranes added or printed onto and even within the skin, together with the use of capsules, electronic jewelry, and even active makeup offers the future potential to implement extremely secure personal authentication systems. This pseudo-biometric authentication offers infinitely more flexibility and changeability than the body itself, but because it is attached to the body, offers much the same ease of use and constant presence as other biometrics.

Biometrics may be pretty useless as it is, but the field does certainly have a future. We just need to add some bits. The endless potential variety of those bits and their combinations makes the available creativity space vast.

 

 

Heartbleed: a personal action plan

There is much panic today after the Heartbleed bug has been announced. All those nice sites with the padlock symbol running https where you felt safe and warm, well it turns out that some of them may have not been so safe and warm after all. Some were, but many IT advisors are recommending you change all your passwords to be safe because we don’t know for sure what was compromised.

BUT DON’T CHANGE THEM ALL YET!!

Right at the moment, a lot of sites won’t have installed the patches to fix the bug, so are still vulnerable, and you really don’t want to be typing in a new password that is being intercepted, do you?

I am not an IT advisor, but I have managed to get through 33 years of computing all day every day with only 2 viruses so far, and one of those came on the system disks with my first ever Mac in 1987 – yes really. I think my approach is fairly common sense and not too over the top.

There is a natural common sense order in which you need to do stuff. It will take you ages, so my advice is to wait a couple of days. The bug has been there a long time, so a couple days more won’t increase your risk much, but if you change everything this morning you might have to do it all over again in a few days time. If it makes you feel safer, do Step 2 now and then change your Google and Yahoo passwords

When you do:

Step 1

First, limit the amount you use the web or internet for the next day or two so that you are compromised as little as possible, as few passwords are intercepted and cookies read and password files stolen as possible.

Step 2

Meanwhile, clean your PC up a bit. Some of you will be bang up to date and will have different set of favorite tools than me, in which case, do it your way, but make sure you do it. If you are not quite so IT savvy, try my list:

Run C-Cleaner. If you don”t have it, get the free version from

http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download

(Advanced System Care works fine too, but in my experience you need to be extremely careful installing it to avoid getting other dross on your machine. Don’t just click next without reading what boxes are checked/unchecked and what other downloads you’re authorising. I have both but really, either works fine alone)

Basically, tick all the boxes for all the browsers to clear out all your cookies and any junk that may have been stored in your temporary files. Then do a registry clean. It isn’t related to this problem but it is good practice anyway.

Your memory, wastebasket, temporary files, and other places that can be scanned using the heartbleed bug are now clean. I recently tried using Superantispyware too, which is fine, but so far it hasn’t found anything if I have already run C Cleaner.

Now, when you do use the web before it is all patched, you’ll at least be at lower risk.

Step 3

DON’T PANIC!!!!

HT Douglas Adams.

The world probably won’t collapse before the weekend and all the competent companies will have their IT staff patching up and writing you nice emails or welcome screens to say how much they love you and protect you and that they are now ready for your new password. Well, wait a while. They may be ready, but if your browser isn’t yet ready, and especially if you’re saving your passwords using the browser, then your new password could be intercepted.

Think about it. If you are being intercepted, changing the password won’t work, the new one will be caught, so you’ll have to do it all again. If you aren’t, then you won’t know, so will still have to do it again just in case. Google and Yahoo say you don’t have to worry about their sites, and they are probably telling the truth, but I among many am not 100% convinced, and I will be changing my Google and Yahoo stuff. Soon, but not yet.

Use the time to make a list of any sites you remember visiting that have passwords, especially any with other personal details or credit card or bank details.

Step 4

On Saturday, Sunday or Monday, reserve a long session to fix your life. Make a big coffee and set yourself down for a long session.

4.1 Run system update to make sure your system is up to date with the latest fixes.

4.2 Do Step 2 again to make sure your PC is once again clean.

4.3 A full system scan for viruses and other malware wouldn’t hurt.

4.3 Reboot just for peace of mind. You will be changing everything, you want to feel you did it right.

4.4 Think up some sort of password scheme that is different from the one you used before. Use combinations of things, first letters of items or people on a list, keyboard patterns, numbers that mean something. It’s notoriously easy to guess a birth-date or a pet’s name, but hard to crack a combination of bits of several things. Everyone agrees you should use a different one for every site, but we all know you won’t. At least if you use the same root, change a leaf or two by including a letter or two from the site name, maybe shifted two letters along the alphabet or whatever. Even that helps. Be inventive.

4.5 If you use a master password file on your computer, empty it, then change its password and to make sure your new ones go in a clean and secure box.

4.6 Change your Google, Yahoo passwords and for any browsers. If they had been compromised, then anything else you did on any parts of their empires could have been. If you store passwords using the browser, the browser has to be safe before you do anything else. So you have to do them first, or anything else you do could be a waste of time.

4.7 Change your email passwords. You won’t remember all your old one so will have to get resets for some and will need your email for that. You need to be sure you’re using fresh passwords for email in case they had been stolen.

4.8 Change your Facebook, chat room any other social networking passwords. Some say they are safe, best be safer still and change them anyway to your new regime.

One by one, log on to every other site you use and change its password. Use a mixture of characters, capitals and lower case, numbers, punctuation marks (if they are allowed). Write the new password down in your little black book if you want, in a way that means something to you but nobody else.

4.9 Relax. You won’t remember all the sites you ever go to. Some, you won’t have been to for months or even years. But when you cleaned your PC, you deleted all those passwords, so at least if they weren’t already stolen, at least they won’t be stolen now. You will still face a small risk if your passwords are known for sites you don’t remember, but it is probably just a small risk, so really not worth worrying too much about.

WMDs for mad AIs

We think sometimes about mad scientists and what they might do. It’s fun, makes nice films occasionally, and highlights threats years before they become feasible. That then allows scientists and engineers to think through how they might defend against such scenarios, hopefully making sure they don’t happen.

You’ll be aware that a lot more talk of AI is going on again now. It does seem to be picking up progress finally. If it succeeds well enough, a lot more future science and engineering will be done by AI than by people. If genuinely conscious, self-aware AI, with proper emotions etc becomes feasible, as I think it will, then we really ought to think about what happens when it goes wrong. (Sci-fi computer games producers already do think that stuff through sometimes – my personal favorite is Mass Effect). We will one day have some insane AIs. In Mass Effect, the concept of AI being shackled is embedded in the culture, thereby attempting to limit the damage it could presumably do. On the other hand, we have had Asimov’s laws of robotics for decades, but they are sometimes being ignored when it comes to making autonomous defense systems. That doesn’t bode well. So, assuming that Mass Effect’s writers don’t get to be in charge of the world, and instead we have ideological descendants of our current leaders, what sort of things could an advanced AI do in terms of its chosen weaponry?

Advanced AI

An ultra-powerful AI is a potential threat in itself. There is no reason to expect that an advanced AI will be malign, but there is also no reason to assume it won’t be. High level AI could have at least the range of personality that we associate with people, with a potentially greater  range of emotions or motivations, so we’d have the super-helpful smart scientist type AIs but also perhaps the evil super-villain and terrorist ones.

An AI doesn’t have to intend harm to be harmful. If it wants to do something and we are in the way, even if it has no malicious intent, we could still become casualties, like ants on a building site.

I have often blogged about achieving conscious computers using techniques such as gel computing and how we could end up in a terminator scenario, favored by sci-fi. This could be deliberate act of innocent research, military development or terrorism.

Terminator scenarios are diverse but often rely on AI taking control of human weapons systems. I won’t major on that here because that threat has already been analysed in-depth by many people.

Conscious botnets could arrive by accident too – a student prank harnessing millions of bots even with an inefficient algorithm might gain enough power to achieve high level of AI. 

Smart bacteriaBacterial DNA could be modified so that bacteria can make electronics inside their cell, and power it. Linking to other bacteria, massive AI could be achieved.

Zombies

Adding the ability to enter a human nervous system or disrupt or capture control of a human brain could enable enslavement, giving us zombies. Having been enslaved, zombies could easily be linked across the net. The zombie films we watch tend to miss this feature. Zombies in films and games tend to move in herds, but not generally under control or in a much coordinated way. We should assume that real ones will be full networked, liable to remote control, and able to share sensory systems. They’d be rather smarter and more capable than what we’re generally used to. Shooting them in the head might not work so well as people expect either, as their nervous systems don’t really need a local controller, and could just as easily be controlled by a collective intelligence, though blood loss would eventually cause them to die. To stop a herd of real zombies, you’d basically have to dismember them. More Dead Space than Dawn of the Dead.

Zombie viruses could be made other ways too. It isn’t necessary to use smart bacteria. Genetic modification of viruses, or a suspension of nanoparticles are traditional favorites because they could work. Sadly, we are likely to see zombies result from deliberate human acts, likely this century.

From Zombies, it is a short hop to full evolution of the Borg from Star Trek, along with emergence of characters from computer games to take over the zombified bodies.

Terraforming

Using strong external AI to make collective adaptability so that smart bacteria can colonize many niches, bacterial-based AI or AI using bacteria could engage in terraforming. Attacking many niches that are important to humans or other life would be very destructive. Terraforming a planet you live on is not generally a good idea, but if an organism can inhabit land, sea or air and even space, there is plenty of scope to avoid self destruction. Fighting bacteria engaged on such a pursuit might be hard. Smart bacteria could spread immunity to toxins or biological threats almost instantly through a population.

Correlated traffic

Information waves and other correlated traffic, network resonance attacks are another way of using networks to collapse economies by taking advantage of the physical properties of the links and protocols rather than using more traditional viruses or denial or service attacks. AIs using smart dust or bacteria could launch signals in perfect coordination from any points on any networks simultaneously. This could push any network into resonant overloads that would likely crash them, and certainly act to deprive other traffic of bandwidth.

Decryption

Conscious botnets could be used to make decryption engines to wreck security and finance systems. Imagine how much more so a worldwide collection of trillions of AI-harnessed organisms or devices. Invisibly small smart dust and networked bacteria could also pick up most signals well before they are encrypted anyway, since they could be resident on keyboards or the components and wires within. They could even pick up electrical signals from a person’s scalp and engage in thought recognition, intercepting passwords well before a person’s fingers even move to type them.

Space guns

Solar wind deflector guns are feasible, ionizing some of the ionosphere to make a reflective surface to deflect some of the incoming solar wind to make an even bigger reflector, then again, thus ending up with an ionospheric lens or reflector that can steer perhaps 1% of the solar wind onto a city. That could generate a high enough energy density to ignite and even melt a large area of city within minutes.

This wouldn’t be as easy as using space based solar farms, and using energy direction from them. Space solar is being seriously considered but it presents an extremely attractive target for capture because of its potential as a directed energy weapon. Their intended use is to use microwave beams directed to rectenna arrays on the ground, but it would take good design to prevent a takeover possibility.

Drone armies

Drones are already becoming common at an alarming rate, and the sizes of drones are increasing in range from large insects to medium sized planes. The next generation is likely to include permanently airborne drones and swarms of insect-sized drones. The swarms offer interesting potential for WMDs. They can be dispersed and come together on command, making them hard to attack most of the time.

Individual insect-sized drones could build up an electrical charge by a wide variety of means, and could collectively attack individuals, electrocuting or disabling them, as well as overload or short-circuit electrical appliances.

Larger drones such as the ones I discussed in

http://carbonweapons.com/2013/06/27/free-floating-combat-drones/ would be capable of much greater damage, and collectively, virtually indestructible since each can be broken to pieces by an attack and automatically reassembled without losing capability using self organisation principles. A mixture of large and small drones, possibly also using bacteria and smart dust, could present an extremely formidable coordinated attack.

I also recently blogged about the storm router

http://carbonweapons.com/2014/03/17/stormrouter-making-wmds-from-hurricanes-or-thunderstorms/ that would harness hurricanes, tornados or electrical storms and divert their energy onto chosen targets.

In my Space Anchor novel, my superheroes have to fight against a formidable AI army that appears as just a global collection of tiny clouds. They do some of the things I highlighted above and come close to threatening human existence. It’s a fun story but it is based on potential engineering.

Well, I think that’s enough threats to worry about for today. Maybe given the timing of release, you’re expecting me to hint that this is an April Fool blog. Not this time. All these threats are feasible.

Virtual reality. Will it stick this time?

My first job was in missile design and for a year, the lab I worked in was a giant bra-shaped building, two massive domes joined by a short link-way that had been taken out of use years earlier. The domes had been used by soldiers to fire simulated missiles at simulated planes, and were built in the 1960s. One dome had a hydraulic moving platform to simulate firing from a ship. The entire dome surface was used as a screen to show the plane and missile. The missile canisters held by the soldier were counterweighted with a release mechanism coordinated to the fire instruction and the soldier’s headphones would produce a corresponding loud blast to accompany the physical weight change at launch so that they would feel as full a range of sensation experienced by a real soldier on a real battlefield as possible. The missile trajectory and control interface was simulated by analog computers. So virtual reality may have hit the civilian world around 1990 but it was in use several decades earlier in military world. In 1984, we even considered using our advancing computers to create what we called waking dreaming, simulating any chosen experience for leisure. Jaron Lanier has somehow been credited with inventing VR, and he contributed to its naming, but the fact is he ‘invented’ it several decades after it was already in common use and after the concepts were already pretty well established.

I wrote a paper in 1991 based on BT’s VR research in which I made my biggest ever futurology mistake. I worked out the number crunching requirements and pronounced that VR would overtake TV as an entertainment medium around 2000. I need hardly point out that I was wrong. I have often considered why it didn’t happen the way I thought it would. On one front, we did get the entertainment of messing around in 3D worlds, and it is the basis of almost all computer gaming now. So that happened just fine, it just didn’t use stereo vision to convey immersion. It turned out that the immersion is good enough on a TV or PC screen.

Also, in the early 1990s, just as IT companies may have been considering making VR headsets, the class action law suit became very popular, and some of those were based on very tenuous connections to real cause and effect, and meanwhile some VR headset users were reporting eye strain or disorientation. I imagine that the lawyers in those IT companies would be thinking of every teenager that develops any eye problem suing them just in case it might have been caused in part by use of their headset. Those issues plus the engineering difficulties of commercialising manufacture of good quality displays probably were enough to kill VR.

However, I later enjoyed many a simulator ride at Disney and Universal. One such ride allowed me to design my own roller coaster with twists and loops and then ride it in a simulator. It was especially enjoyable. The pull of simulator rides remains powerful.  Playing a game on an xbox is fun, but doesn’t compare with a simulator ride.

I think much of the future of VR lies in simulators where it already thrives. They can go further still. Tethered simulators can throw you around a bit but can’t manage the same range of experience that you can get on a roller coaster. Imagine using a roller coaster where you see the path ahead via a screen. As your cart reaches the top of a hill, the track apparently collapses and you see yourself hurtling towards certain death. That would scare the hell out of me. Combining the g-forces that you can get on a roller coaster with imaginative visual effects delivered via a headset would provide the ultimate experience.

Compare that with using a nice visor on its own. Sure, you can walk around an interesting object like a space station, or enjoy more immersive gaming, or you can co-design molecules. That sort of app has been used for many years in research labs anyway. Or you can train people in health and safety without exposing them to real danger. But where’s the fun? Where’s the big advantage over TV-based gaming? 3D has pretty much failed yet again for TV and movies, and hasn’t made much impact in gaming yet. Do we really think that adding a VR headset will change it all, even though 3D glasses didn’t?

I was a great believer in VR. With the active contact lens, it can be ultra-light-weight and minimally invasive while ultra-realistic. Adding active skin interfacing to the nervous system to convey physical sensation will eventually help too. But unless plain old VR it is accompanied by stimulation of the other senses, just as a simulator does, I fear the current batch of VR enthusiasts are just repeating the same mistakes I made over twenty years ago. I always knew what you could do with it and that the displays would get near perfect one day and I got carried away with excitement over the potential. That’s what caused my error. Beware you don’t make the same one. This could well be just another big flop. I hope it isn’t though.

Drones

Drones (unmanned flying vehicles), are becoming very routine equipment in warfare. They are also making market impacts in policing and sports. I first encountered them in 1981 when I started work in missile design. It was obvious even back then that we couldn’t go on using planes with people on board, if only because they are so easy to shoot down. People can’t withstand very high g forces so planes can’t be as agile as missiles. However, most of the drones used in war so far are not especially agile. This is mainly possible because the enemies they are used against are technologically relatively primitive. Against an enemy with a decent defence system, such as Russians or Chinese, or in another European war, they wouldn’t last so long.

Drones come in many shapes and sizes – large insects, model airplanes, and full size planes. Large ones can carry big missiles and lots of sensors. Small ones can evade detection more easily but can still carry cameras. Some quadcopter variants are being trialled for delivery (e.g. Amazon), and already are popular as toys or for hobbies.

As miniaturisation continues, we will see some that take the shape of clouds too. A swarm of tiny drones could use swarming algorithms to stay together and use very short range comms to act as a single autonomous entity. Rapid dispersal mechanisms could make clouds almost immune to current defence systems too. Tiny drones can’t carry large payloads, but they can carry detectors to identify potential targets, processors to analyse data and comms devices to communicate with remote controllers, and lasers that can mark out confirmed targets for larger drones or missiles so can still be part of a powerful weapon system. The ethics of using remote machines to wage war are finally being discussed at length and in some depth. Personally, I have fewer problems with that than many people. I see it as a natural progression from the first use of a bone or stick to hit someone. A drone isn’t so different from throwing stones. Nobody yet expects machines to be used up to the point of annihilation of an enemy. Once the machines have run their course, people will still end up in face to face combat with each other before surrender comes.

The large military drones carrying missiles may be purely battlefield technology, but we shouldn’t underestimate what could be done with tiny drones. Tiny drones can be very cheap, so there could be a lot of them. Think about it. We have all experienced barbecues ruined by wasps. Wasp sized drones that carry stings or other chemical or biological warfare delivery would be just as irritating and potentially much more lethal, and if they have cloud based image recognition and navigation, there is much that could be done using swarms of them. With self organisation, insect-sized drones could come at a target from lots of directions, making detection almost impossible until the last second. This could become a perfect technology for strategic assassination and terrorism, as well as gang warfare. Tiny drones could eventually be a more dangerous prospect than the large ones making headlines now.

In the UK, non-military drones are being licensed too. The emergency services, utilities and some sport clubs are among the first given licenses. There will be many more. Many companies will want to use them for all sort of reasons. Our skies will soon always have a drone somewhere in the field of view, probably lots eventually. If we were confident hat they would only ever be used for the purpose registered, and that the registration authorities would be supremely competent and informed about risks, then objections would be more about potential noise than invasiveness, but we can be certain that there will be gaping holes in registration competence and misuse of drones once registered. There will also inevitably be illegal use of unregistered drones

This raises strong concerns about privacy, corporate, local government and state surveillance, criminality, heavy handed policing and even state oppression. During the day, you could be being filmed or photographed by lots of airborne cameras and during the night by others using infrared cameras or millimetre wave imaging. Correlation of images with signals from mobile phones and tablets or often even face recognition could tell the viewers who is who, and the pictures could sometimes be cross referenced with those from ground based cameras to provide a full 3d view.

The potential use of drones in crime detection is obvious, but so is the potential for misuse. We recently heard disturbing figures from police chiefs about the levels of misuse of the police uniform, data and equipment, even links to criminal gangs. Amplifying the power available to police without cracking down on misuse would be unhelpful. The last thing we need is criminal gangs with under-the-table access to police quality surveillance drones! But even the drones owned by utilities will need good cameras, and some will have other kinds of sensors. Most will have more power than they need to fly so will be able to carry additional sensor equipment that may have been added without authority. Some abuses are inevitable. Privacy is being undermined from other directions already of course, so perhaps this doesn’t make much difference, just adding another layer of privacy erosion on several that are already established. But there is something about extra video surveillance from the sky that makes it more intrusive. It makes it much harder to hide, and the smaller the drones become, the harder it will get. The fly on the wall could be a spy. The argument that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ holds no merit at all.

Drones are already making headlines, but so far we have only seen their very earliest manifestations. Future headlines will get far more scary.

The internet of things will soon be history

I’ve been a full time futurologist since 1991, and an engineer working on far future R&D stuff since I left uni in 1981. It is great seeing a lot of the 1980s dreams about connecting everything together finally starting to become real, although as I’ve blogged a bit recently, some of the grander claims we’re seeing for future home automation are rather unlikely. Yes you can, but you probably won’t, though some people will certainly adopt some stuff. Now that most people are starting to get the idea that you can connect things and add intelligence to them, we’re seeing a lot of overshoot too on the importance of the internet of things, which is the generalised form of the same thing.

It’s my job as a futurologist not only to understand that trend (and I’ve been yacking about putting chips in everything for decades) but then to look past it to see what is coming next. Or if it is here to stay, then that would also be an important conclusion too, but you know what, it just isn’t. The internet of things will be about as long lived as most other generations of technology, such as the mobile phone. Do you still have one? I don’t, well I do but they are all in a box in the garage somewhere. I have a general purpose mobile computer that happens to do be a phone as well as dozens of other things. So do you probably. The only reason you might still call it a smartphone or an iPhone is because it has to be called something and nobody in the IT marketing industry has any imagination. PDA was a rubbish name and that was the choice.

You can stick chips in everything, and you can connect them all together via the net. But that capability will disappear quickly into the background and the IT zeitgeist will move on. It really won’t be very long before a lot of the things we interact with are virtual, imaginary. To all intents and purposes they will be there, and will do wonderful things, but they won’t physically exist. So they won’t have chips in them. You can’t put a chip into a figment of imagination, even though you can make it appear in front of your eyes and interact with it. A good topical example of this is the smart watch, all set to make an imminent grand entrance. Smart watches are struggling to solve battery problems, they’ll be expensive too. They don’t need batteries if they are just images and a fully interactive image of a hugely sophisticated smart watch could also be made free, as one of a million things done by a free app. The smart watch’s demise is already inevitable. The energy it takes to produce an image on the retina is a great deal less than the energy needed to power a smart watch on your wrist and the cost of a few seconds of your time to explain to an AI how you’d like your wrist to be accessorised is a few seconds of your time, rather fewer seconds than you’d have spent on choosing something that costs a lot. In fact, the energy needed for direct retinal projection and associated comms is far less than can be harvested easily from your body or the environment, so there is no battery problem to solve.

If you can do that with a smart watch, making it just an imaginary item, you can do it to any kind of IT interface. You only need to see the interface, the rest can be put anywhere, on your belt, in your bag or in the IT ether that will evolve from today’s cloud. My pad, smartphone, TV and watch can all be recycled.

I can also do loads of things with imagination that I can’t do for real. I can have an imaginary wand. I can point it at you and turn you into a frog. Then in my eyes, the images of you change to those of a frog. Sure, it’s not real, you aren’t really a frog, but you are to me. I can wave it again and make the building walls vanish, so I can see the stuff on sale inside. A few of those images could be very real and come from cameras all over the place, the chips-in-everything stuff, but actually, I don’t have much interest in most of what the shop actually has, I am not interested in most of the local physical reality of a shop; what I am far more interested in is what I can buy, and I’ll be shown those things, in ways that appeal to me, whether they’re physically there or on Amazon Virtual. So 1% is chips-in-everything, 99% is imaginary, virtual, some sort of visual manifestation of my profile, Amazon Virtual’s AI systems, how my own AI knows I like to see things, and a fair bit of other people’s imagination to design the virtual decor, the nice presentation options, the virtual fauna and flora making it more fun, and countless other intermediaries and extramediaries, or whatever you call all those others that add value and fun to an experience without actually getting in the way. All just images directly projected onto my retinas. Not so much chips-in-everything as no chips at all except a few sensors, comms and an infinitesimal timeshare of a processor and storage somewhere.

A lot of people dismiss augmented reality as irrelevant passing fad. They say video visors and active contact lenses won’t catch on because of privacy concerns (and I’d agree that is a big issue that needs to be discussed and sorted, but it will be discussed and sorted). But when you realise that what we’re going to get isn’t just an internet of things, but a total convergence of physical and virtual, a coming together of real and imaginary, an explosion of human creativity,  a new renaissance, a realisation of yours and everyone else’s wildest dreams as part of your everyday reality; when you realise that, then the internet of things suddenly starts to look more than just a little bit boring, part of the old days when we actually had to make stuff and you had to have the same as everyone else and it all cost a fortune and needed charged up all the time.

The internet of things is only starting to arrive. But it won’t stay for long before it hides in the cupboard and disappears from memory. A far, far more exciting future is coming up close behind. The world of creativity and imagination. Bring it on!

Deterring rape and sexual assault

Since writing this a new set of stats has come out (yes, I should have predicted that):

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/focus-on-violent-crime-and-sexual-offences–2012-13/rft-table-2.xls

New technology appears all the time, but it seemed to me that some very serious problems were being under-addressed, such as rape and sexual assault. Technology obviously won’t solve them alone, but I believe it could help to some degree. However, I wanted to understand the magnitude of the problem first, so sought out the official statistics. I found it intensely frustrating task that left me angry that government is so bad at collecting proper data. So although I started this as another technology blog, it evolved and I now also discuss the statistics too, since poor quality data collection and communication on such an important issue as rape is a huge problem in itself. That isn’t a technology issue, it is one of government competence.

Anyway, the headline stats are that:

1060 rapes of women and 522 rapes of girls under 16 resulted in court convictions. A third as many attempted rapes also resulted in convictions.

14767 reports of rapes or attempted rapes (typically 25%) of females were initially recorded by the police, of which 33% were against girls under 16.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 69000 women claim to have been subjected to rape or attempted rape.

I will discuss the stats further after I have considered how technology could help to reduce rape, the original point of the blog.

This is a highly sensitive area, and people get very upset with any discussion of rape because of its huge emotional impact. I don’t want to upset anybody by misplacing blame so let me say very clearly:

Rape or sexual assault are never a victim’s fault. There are no circumstances under which it is acceptable to take part in any sexual act with anyone against their will. If someone does so, it is entirely their fault, not the victim’s. People should not have to protect themselves but should be free to do as they wish without fear of being raped or sexually assaulted. Some people clearly don’t respect that right and rapes and sexual assaults happen. The rest of us want fewer people to be raped or assaulted and want more guilty people to be convicted. Technology can’t stop rape, and I won’t suggest that it can, but if it can help reduce someone’s chances of becoming a victim or help convict a culprit, even in just some cases, that’s progress.  I just want to do my bit to help as an engineer. Please don’t just think up reasons why a particular solution is no use in a particular case, think instead how it might help in a few. There are lots of rapes and assaults where nothing I suggest will be of any help at all. Technology can only ever be a small part of our fight against sex crime.

Let’s start with something we could easily do tomorrow, using social networking technology to alert potential victims to some dangers, deter stranger rape or help catch culprits. People encounter strangers all the time – at work, on transport, in clubs, pubs, coffee bars, shops, as well as dark alleys and tow-paths. In many of these places, we expect IT infrastructure, communications, cameras, and people with smartphones. 

Social networks often use location and some apps know who some of the people near you are. Shops are starting to use face recognition to identify regular customers and known troublemakers. Videos from building cameras are already often used to try to identify potential suspects or track their movements. Suppose in the not-very-far future, a critical mass of people carried devices that recorded the data of who was near them, throughout the day, and sent it regularly into the cloud. That device could be a special purpose device or it could just be a smartphone with an app on it. Suppose a potential victim in a club has one. They might be able to glance at an app and see a social reputation for many of the people there. They’d see that some are universally considered to be fine upstanding members of the community, even by previous partners, who thought they were nice people, just not right for them. They might see that a few others have had relationships where one or more of their previous partners had left negative feedback, which may or may not be justified. The potential victim might reasonably be more careful with the ones that have dodgy reputations, whether they’re justified or not, and even a little wary of those who don’t carry such a device. Why don’t they carry one? Surely if they were OK, they would? That’s what critical mass does. Above a certain level of adoption, it would rapidly become the norm. Like any sort of reputation, giving someone a false or unjustified rating would carry its own penalty. If you try to get back at an ex by telling lies about them, you’d quickly be identified as a liar by others, or they might sue you for libel. Even at this level, social networking can help alert some people to potential danger some of the time.

Suppose someone ends up being raped. Thanks to the collection of that data by their device (and those of others) of who was where, when, with whom, the police would more easily be able to identify some of the people the victim had encountered and some of them would be able to identify some of the others who didn’t carry such a device. The data would also help eliminate a lot of potential suspects too. Unless a rapist had planned in advance to rape, they may even have such a device with them. That might itself be a deterrent from later raping someone they’d met, because  they’d know the police would be able to find them easier. Some clubs and pubs might make it compulsory to carry one, to capitalise on the market from being known as relatively safe hangouts. Other clubs and pubs might be forced to follow suit. We could end up with a society where most of the time, potential rapists would know that their proximity to their potential victim would be known most of the time. So they might behave.

So even social networking such as we have today or could easily produce tomorrow is capable of acting as a deterrent to some people considering raping a stranger. It increases their chances of being caught, and provides some circumstantial evidence at least of their relevant movements when they are.

Smartphones are very underused as a tool to deter rape. Frequent use of social nets such as uploading photos or adding a diary entry into Facebook helps to make a picture of events leading up to a crime that may later help in inquiries. Again, that automatically creates a small deterrence by increasing the chances of being investigated. It could go a lot further though. Life-logging may use a microphone that records a continuous audio all day and a camera that records pictures when the scene changes. This already exists but is not in common use yet – frequent Facebook updates are as far as most people currently get to life-logging. Almost any phone is capable of recording audio, and can easily do so from a pocket or bag, but if a camera is to record frequent images, it really needs to be worn. That may be OK in several years if we’re all wearing video visors with built-in cameras, but in practice and for the short-term, we’re realistically stuck with just the audio.

So life-logging technology could record a lot of the events, audio and pictures leading up to an offense, and any smartphone could do at least some of this. A rapist might forcefully search and remove such devices from a victim or their bag, but by then they might already have transmitted a lot of data into the cloud, possibly even evidence of a struggle that may be used later to help convict. If not removed, it could even record audio throughout the offence, providing a good source of evidence. Smartphones also have accelerometers in them, so they could even act as a sort of black box, showing when a victim was still, walking, running, or struggling. Further, phones often have tracking apps on them, so if a rapist did steal a phone, it may show their later movements up to the point where they dumped it. Phones can also be used to issue distress calls. An emergency distress button would be easy to implement, and could transmit exact location stream audio  to the emergency services. An app could also be set up to issue a distress call automatically under specific circumstances, such at it detecting a struggle or a scream or a call for help. Finally, a lot of phones are equipped for ID purposes, and that will generally increase the proportion of people in a building whose identity is known. Someone who habitually uses their phone for such purposes could be asked to justify disabling ID or tracking services when later interviewed in connection with an offense. All of these developments will make it just a little bit harder to escape justice and that knowledge would act as a deterrent.

Overall, a smart phone, with its accelerometer, positioning, audio, image and video recording and its ability to record and transmit any such data on to cloud storage makes it into a potentially very useful black box and that surely must be a significant deterrent. From the point of view of someone falsely accused, it also could act as a valuable proof of innocence if they can show that the whole time they were together was amicable, or if indeed they were somewhere else altogether at the time. So actually, both sides of a date have an interest in using such black box smartphone technology and on a date with someone new, a sensible precautionary habit could be encouraged to enable continuous black box logging throughout a date. People might reasonably object to having a continuous recording happening during a legitimate date if they thought there was a danger it could be used by the other person to entertain their friends or uploaded on to the web later, but it could easily be implemented to protect privacy and avoiding the risk of misuse. That could be achieved by using an app that keeps the record on a database but gives nobody access to it without a court order. It would be hard to find a good reason to object to the other person protecting themselves by using such an app. With such protection and extra protection, perhaps it could become as much part of safe sex as using a condom. Imagine if women’s groups were to encourage a trend to make this sort of recording on dates the norm – no app, no fun!

These technologies would be useful primarily in deterring stranger rape or date rape. I doubt if they would help as much with rapes that are by someone the victim knows. There are a number of reasons. It’s reasonable to assume that when the victim knows the rapist, and especially if they are partners and have regular sex, it is far less likely that either would have a recording going. For example, a woman may change her mind during sex that started off consensually. If the man forces her to continue, it is very unlikely that there would be anything recorded to prove rape occurred. In an abusive or violent relationship, an abused partner might use an audio recording via a hidden device when they are concerned – an app could initiate a recording on detection of a secret keyword, or when voices are raised, even when the phone is put in a particular location or orientation. So it might be easy to hide the fact that a recording is going and it could be useful in some cases. However, the fear of being caught doing so by a violent partner might be a strong deterrent, and an abuser may well have full access to or even control of their partner’s phone, and most of all, a victim generally doesn’t know they are going to be raped. So the phone probably isn’t a very useful factor when the victim and rapist are partners or are often together in that kind of situation. However, when it is two colleagues or friends in a new kind of situation, which also accounts for a significant proportion of rapes, perhaps it is more appropriate and normal dating protocols for black box app use may more often apply. Companies could help protect employees by insisting that such a black box recording is in force when any employees are together, in or out of office hours. They could even automate it by detecting proximity of their employees’ phones.

The smartphone is already ubiquitous and everyone is familiar with installing and using apps, so any of this could be done right away. A good campaign supported by the right groups could ensure good uptake of such apps very quickly. And it needn’t be all phone-centric. A new class of device would be useful for those who feel threatened in abusive relationships. Thanks to miniaturisation, recording and transmission devices can easily be concealed in just about any everyday object, many that would be common in a handbag or bedroom drawer or on a bedside table. If abuse isn’t just a one-off event, they may offer a valuable means of providing evidence to deal with an abusive partner.

Obviously, black boxes or audio recording can’t stop someone from using force or threats, but it can provide good quality evidence, and the deterrent effect of likely being caught is a strong defence against any kind of crime. I think that is probably as far as technology can go. Self-defense weapons such as pepper sprays and rape alarms already exist, but we don’t allow use of tasers or knives or guns and similar restrictions would apply to future defence technologies. Automatically raising an alarm and getting help to the scene quickly is the only way we can reasonably expect technology to help deal with a rape that is occurring, but that makes the use of deterrence via probably detection all the more valuable. Since the technologies also help protect the innocent against false accusations, that would help in getting their social adoption.

So much for what we could do with existing technology. In a few years, we will become accustomed to having patches of electronics stuck on our skin. Active skin and even active makeup will have a lot of medical functions, but it could also include accelerometers, recording devices, pressure sensors and just about anything that uses electronics. Any part of the body can be printed with active skin or active makeup, which is then potentially part of this black box system. Invisibly small sensors in makeup, on thin membranes or even embedded among skin cells could notionally detect, measure and record any kiss, caress, squeeze or impact, even record the physical sensations experiences by recording the nerve signals. It could record pain or discomfort, along with precise timing, location, and measure many properties of the skin touching or kissing it too. It might be possible for a victim to prove exactly when a rape happened, exactly what it involved, and who was responsible. Such technology is already being researched around the world. It will take a while to develop and become widespread, but it will come.

I don’t want this to sound frivolous, but I suggested many years ago that when women get breast implants, they really ought to have at least some of the space used for useful electronics, and electronics can actually be made using silicone. A potential rapist can’t steal or deactivate a smart breast implant as easily as a phone. If a woman is going to get implants anyway, why not get ones that increase her safety by having some sort of built-in black box? We don’t have to wait a decade for the technology to do that.

The statistics show that many rapes and sexual assaults that are reported don’t result in a conviction. Some accusations may be false, and I couldn’t find any figures for that number, but lack of good evidence is one of the biggest reasons why many genuine rapes don’t result in conviction. Technology can’t stop rapes, but it can certainly help a lot to provide good quality evidence to make convictions more likely when rapes and assaults do occur.

By making people more aware of potentially risky dates, and by gathering continuous data streams when they are with someone, technology can provide an extra level of safety and a good deterrent against rape and sexual assault. That in no way implies that rape is anyone’s fault except the rapist, but with high social support, it could help make a significant drop in rape incidence and a large rise in conviction rates. I am aware that in the biggest category, the technology I suggest has the smallest benefit to offer, so we will still need to tackle rape by other means. It is only a start, but better some reduction than none.

The rest of this blog is about rape statistics, not about technology or the future. It may be of interest to some readers. Its overwhelming conclusion is that official stats are a mess and nobody has a clue how many rapes actually take place.

Summary Statistics

We hear politicians and special interest groups citing and sometimes misrepresenting wildly varying statistics all the time, and now I know why. It’s hard to know the true scale of the problem, and very easy indeed to be confused by  poor presentation of poor quality government statistics in the sexual offenses category. That is a huge issue and source of problems in itself. Although it is very much on the furthest edge of my normal brief, I spent three days trawling through the whole sexual offenses field, looking at the crime survey questionnaires, the gaping holes and inconsistencies in collected data, and the evolution of offense categories over the last decade. It is no wonder government policies and public debate are so confused when the data available is so poor. It very badly needs fixed. 

There are several stages at which some data is available outside and within the justice system. The level of credibility of a claim obviously varies at each stage as the level of evidence increases.

Outside of the justice system, someone may claim to have been raped in a self-completion module of The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), knowing that it is anonymous, nobody will query their response, no further verification will be required and there will be no consequences for anyone. There are strong personal and political reasons why people may be motivated to give false information in a survey designed to measure crime levels (in either direction), especially in those sections not done by face to face interview, and these reasons are magnified when people filling it in know that their answers will be scaled up to represent the whole population, so that already introduces a large motivational error source. However, even for a person fully intending to tell the truth in the survey, some questions are ambiguous or biased, and some are highly specific while others leave far too much scope for interpretation, leaving gaps in some areas while obsessing with others. In my view, the CSEW is badly conceived and badly implemented. In spite of unfounded government and police assurances that it gives a more accurate picture of crime than other sources, having read it, I have little more confidence in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW)  as an indicator of actual crime levels than a casual conversation in a pub. We can be sure that some people don’t report some rapes for a variety of reasons and that in itself is a cause for concern. We don’t know how many go unreported, and the CSEW is not a reasonable indicator. We need a more reliable source.

The next stage for potential stats is that anyone may report any rape to the police, whether of themselves, a friend or colleague, witnessing a rape of a stranger, or even something they heard. The police will only record some of these initial reports as crimes, on a fairly common sense approach. According to the report, ‘the police record a crime if, on the balance of probability, the circumstances as reported amount to a crime defined by law and if there is no credible evidence to the contrary‘. 7% of these are later dropped for reasons such as errors in initial recording or retraction. However, it has recently been revealed that some forces record every crime reported whereas others record it only after it has passed the assessment above, damaging the quality of the data by mixing two different types of data together. In such an important area of crime, it is most unsatisfactory that proper statistics are not gathered in a consistent way for each stage of the criminal justice process, using the same criteria in every force.

Having recorded crimes, the police will proceed some of them through the criminal justice system.

Finally, the courts will find proven guilt in some of those cases.

I looked for the data for each of these stages, expecting to find vast numbers of table detailing everything. Perhaps they exist, and I certainly followed a number of promising routes, but most of the roads I followed ended up leading back to the CSEW and the same overview report. This joint overview report for the UK was produced by the  Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the Office for National Statistics in 2013, and it includes a range of tables with selected data from actual convictions through to results of the crime survey of England and Wales. While useful, it omits a lot of essential data that I couldn’t find anywhere else either.

The report and its tables can be accessed from:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/an-overview-of-sexual-offending-in-england—wales/december-2012/index.html

Another site gives a nice infographic on police recording, although for a different period. It is worth looking at if only to see the wonderful caveat: ‘the police figures exclude those offences which have not been reported to them’. Here it is:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/period-ending-june-2013/info-sexual-offenses.html

In my view the ‘overview of sexual offending’ report mixes different qualities of data for different crimes and different victim groups in such a way as to invite confusion, distortion and misrepresentation. I’d encourage you to read it yourself if only to convince you of the need to pressure government to do it properly. Be warned, a great deal of care is required to work out exactly what and which victim group each refers to. Some figures include all people, some only females, some only women 16-59 years old. Some refer to different crime groups with similar sounding names such as sexual assault and sexual offence, some include attempts whereas others don’t. Worst of all, some very important statistics are missing, and it’s easy to assume another one refers to what you are looking for when on closer inspection, it doesn’t. However, there doesn’t appear to be a better official report available, so I had to use it. I’ve done my best to extract and qualify the headline statistics.

Taking rapes against both males and females, in 2011, 1153 people were convicted of carrying out 2294 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 2 each. The conviction rate was 34.6% of 6630 proceeded against, from 16041 rapes or attempted rapes recorded by the police. Inexplicably, conviction figures are not broken down by victim gender, nor by rape or attempted rape. 

Police recording stats are broken down well. Of the 16041, 1274 (8%) of the rapes and attempted rapes recorded by the police were against males, while 14767 (92%) were against females. 33% of the female rapes recorded and 70% of male rapes recorded were against children (though far more girls were raped than boys). Figures are also broken down well against ethnicity and age, for offender and victim. Figures elsewhere suggested that 25% of rape attempts are unsuccessful, which combined with the 92% proportion that were rapes of females would indicate 1582 convictions for actual rape of a female, approximately 1060 women and 522 girls, but those figures only hold true if the proportions are similar through to conviction. 

Surely such a report should clearly state such an important figure as the number of rapes of a female that led to a conviction, and not leave it to readers to calculate their own estimate from pieces of data spread throughout the report. Government needs to do a lot better at gathering, categorising, analysing and reporting clear and accurate data. 

That 1582 figure for convictions is important, but it represents only the figure for rapes proven beyond reasonable doubt. Some females were raped and the culprit went unpunished. There has been a lot of recent effort to try to get a better conviction rate for rapes. Getting better evidence more frequently would certainly help get more convictions. A common perception is that many or even most rapes are unreported so the focus is often on trying to get more women to report it when they are raped. If someone knows they have good evidence, they are more likely to report a rape or assault, since one of the main reasons they don’t report it is lack of confidence that the police can do anything.

Although I don’t have much confidence in the figures from the CSEW, I’ll list them anyway. Perhaps you have greater confidence in them. The CSEW uses a sample of people, and then results are scaled up to a representation of the whole population. The CSEW (Crime Survey of England and Wales) estimates that 52000 (95% confidence level of between 39000 and 66000) women between 16 and 59 years old claim to have been victim of actual rape in the last 12 months, based on anonymous self-completion questionnaires, with 69000 (95% confidence level of between 54000 and 85000) women claiming to have been victim of attempted or actual rape in the last 12 months. 

In the same period, 22053 sexual assaults were recorded by the police. I couldn’t find any figures for convictions for sexual assaults, only for sexual offenses, which is a different, far larger category that includes indecent exposure and voyeurism. It isn’t clear why the report doesn’t include the figures for sexual assault convictions. Again, government should do better in their collection and presentation of important statistics.

The overview report also gives the stats for the number of women who said they reported a rape or attempted rape. 15% of women said they told the police, 57% said they told someone else but not the police, and 28% said they told nobody. The report does give the reasons commonly cited for not telling the police: “Based on the responses of female victims in the 2011/12 survey, the most frequently cited were that it would be ‘embarrassing’, they ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’, that the incident was ‘too trivial/not worth reporting’, or that they saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business’.”

Whether you pick the 2110 convictions of rape or attempted rape against a female or the 69000 claimed in anonymous questionnaires, or anywhere in between, a lot of females are being subjected to actual and attempted rapes, and a lot victim of sexual assault. The high proportion of victims that are young children is especially alarming. Male rape is a big problem too, but the figures are a lot lower than for female rape.

It’s easy to solve power supply for smart wrist straps. Make them virtual instead.

Lots of smart wearable devices are starting to appear in corporate hype now. I am happy to a point, we were talking about most of them 20 years ago so it’s about time! However, it is a futurologist’s curse that you can never truly enjoy today because you know how good it might be tomorrow so it never quite measures up.

The pictures of the new wristbands look very nice, but they are too little, too late. Why not the whole forearm? Why a wristband and not active skin? But the big question is: why make them physical at all?

I invented the active contact lens in 1991, using one LED per pixel, rather like the Google proposal suggests – somehow they managed to patent the active contact lens in 2005, at least 12 years after the idea was first published outside BT. So much for the US Patent Office doing due diligence! I greatly improved on my initial design in 1995 when the micro-mirror was invented by Texas Instruments, immediately allowing full retina resolution displays with just 3 lasers and a micro-mirror.  Google engineers seem oblivious to that invention and persist on doing it the crap way with a far less scalable one-LED-per-pixel approach that will struggle to do any more than basic graphics.

Thankfully though, Google is just one IT company and there are many. I am not a gambling man but I would be greatly surprised if there isn’t some company out there right now working on doing a high resolution 3D augmented reality head up display properly. It doesn’t even have to be in a contact lens, a lightweight visor is fine. But we should expect at least to have both eyes used, for it to be a full semi-transparent overlay on the entire field of view rather than just a small region of the display here and there. The 3D bit is trivial if both eyes are available.

Once we have it, and it really can’t be very long, you won’t need a laptop or a pad or a smartphone or a wristband or a TV set. They can all be produced virtually on demand. Any kind of gadget, any kind of interface you like, anywhere, and size, any resolution. You can make any interface you’ve ever seen on any sci-fi movie, with no extra cost apart from any apps you have to buy. Apple are struggling with power supply for their wristband. If you have a head up display, the power requirement is the few microwatts to put the image on your retina. Everything else can be done in the cloud or on a portable gadget without the battery-size problems, perhaps worn on your belt.

The Fin interface that is doing the media rounds today is quite nice too. You wear it on your thumb and it uses image recognition to determine the gestures you make on your hand, and holds your ID and stuff and the battery lasts ages. You don’t really need it – you could do it all by image recognition from your contact lenses or a body-relative positioning system – but it looks nice and solves a multitude of problems easily and locally. So I won’t begrudge it a place.

That really sums up the difference. The wrist straps are mainly a display, which you really don’t need and offers no advantage over a head up display, while the Fin thing is an interfacing device, which still works outside your field of view, so has some merit.

Active skin will also have merit, its primary purpose being to interface between IT and the body. Anything you can do with the wrist strap or Fin can also be easily implemented with active skin, but active skin can also detect your health state, control your medication, detect, record, relay and replay emotions and sensations, act as smart makeup or a display or a video tattoo, as well as all the interface/security/ID stuff and can do some really cool stuff when linked to your or other people’s active contact lenses. With the right permissions, you could feel what someone else is feeling just by looking at their hand.

So, I’m bored with this wrist strap stuff. It may not even be on the shelves yet, but conceptually, it’s ancient history and I wish the future would hurry up and arrive.

Home automation. A reality check.

Home automation is much in the news at the moment now that companies are making the chips-with-everything kit and the various apps.

Like 3D, home automation comes and goes. Superficially it is attractive, but the novelty wears thin quickly. It has been possible since the 1950s to automate a home. Bill Gates notably built a hugely expensive automated home 20 years ago. There are rarely any new ideas in the field, just a lot of recycling and minor tweaking.  Way back in 2000, I wrote what was even then just a recycling summary blog-type piece for my website bringing together a lot of already well-worn ideas. And yet it could easily have come from this years papers. Here it is, go to the end of the italicised text for my updating commentary:

Chips everywhere

 August 2000

 The chips-with-everything lifestyle is almost inevitable. Almost everything can be improved by adding some intelligence to it, and since the intelligence will be cheap to make, we will take advantage of this potential. In fact, smart ways of doing things are often cheaper than dumb ways, a smart door lock may be much cheaper than a complex key based lock. A chip is often cheaper than dumb electronics or electromechanics. However, electronics no longer has a monopoly of chip technology. Some new chips incorporate tiny electromechanical or electrochemical devices to do jobs that used to be done by more expensive electronics. Chips now have the ability to analyse chemicals, biological matter or information. They are at home processing both atoms and bits.

 These new families of chips have many possible uses, but since they are relatively new, most are probably still beyond our imagination. We already have seen the massive impact of chips that can do information processing. We have much less intuition regarding the impact in the physical world.

 Some have components that act as tiny pumps to allow drugs to be dispensed at exactly the right rate. Others have tiny mirrors that can control laser beams to make video displays. Gene chips have now been built that can identify the presence of many different genes, allowing applications from rapid identification to estimation of life expectancy for insurance reasons. (They are primarily being use to tell whether people have a genetic disorder so that their treatment can be determined correctly).

 It is easy to predict some of the uses such future chips might have around the home and office, especially when they become disposably cheap. Chips on fruit that respond to various gases may warn when the fruit is at its best and when it should be disposed of. Other foods might have electronic use-by dates that sound an alarm each time the cupboard or fridge is opened close to the end of their life. Other chips may detect the presence of moulds or harmful bacteria. Packaging chips may have embedded cooking instructions that communicate directly with the microwave, or may contain real-time recipes that appear on the kitchen terminal and tell the chef exactly what to do, and when. They might know what other foodstuffs are available in the kitchen, or whether they are in stock locally and at what price. Of course, these chips could also contain pricing and other information for use by the shops themselves, replacing bar codes and the like and allowing the customer just to put all the products in a smart trolley and walk out, debiting their account automatically. Chips on foods might react when the foods are in close proximity, warning the owner that there may be odour contamination, or that these two could be combined well to make a particularly pleasant dish. Cooking by numbers. In short, the kitchen could be a techno-utopia or nightmare depending on taste.

 Mechanical switches can already be replaced by simple sensors that switch on the lights when a hand is waved nearby, or when someone enters a room. In future, switches of all kinds may be rather more emotional, glowing, changing colour or shape, trying to escape, or making a noise when a hand gets near to make them easier or more fun to use. They may respond to gestures or voice commands, or eventually infer what they are to do from something they pick up in conversation. Intelligent emotional objects may become very commonplace. Many devices will act differently according to the person making the transaction. A security device will allow one person entry, while phoning the police when someone else calls if they are a known burglar. Others may receive a welcome message or be put in videophone contact with a resident, either in the house or away.

 It will be possible to burglar proof devices by registering them in a home. They could continue to work while they are near various other fixed devices, maybe in the walls, but won’t work when removed. Moving home would still be possible by broadcasting a digitally signed message to the chips. Air quality may be continuously analysed by chips, which would alert to dangers such as carbon monoxide, or excessive radiation, and these may also monitor for the presence of bacteria or viruses or just pollen. They may be integrated into a home health system which monitors our wellbeing on a variety of fronts, watching for stress, diseases, checking our blood pressure, fitness and so on. These can all be unobtrusively monitored. The ultimate nightmare might be that our fridge would refuse to let us have any chocolate until the chips in our trainers have confirmed that we have done our exercise for the day.

 Some chips in our home would be mobile, in robots, and would have a wide range of jobs from cleaning and tidying to looking after the plants. Sensors in the soil in a plant pot could tell the robot exactly how much water and food the plant needs. The plant may even be monitored by sensors on the stem or leaves. 

The global positioning system allows chips to know almost exactly where they are outside, and in-building positioning systems could allow positioning down to millimetres. Position dependent behaviour will therefore be commonplace. Similarly, events can be timed to the precision of atomic clock broadcasts. Response can be super-intelligent, adjusting appropriately for time, place, person, social circumstances, environmental conditions, anything that can be observed by any sort of sensor or predicted by any sort of algorithm. 

With this enormous versatility, it is very hard to think of anything where some sort of chip could not make an improvement. The ubiquity of the chip will depend on how fast costs fall and how valuable a task is, but we will eventually have chips with everything.

So that was what was pretty everyday thinking in the IT industry in 2000. The articles I’ve read recently mostly aren’t all that different.

What has changed since is that companies trying to progress it are adding new layers of value-skimming. In my view some at least are big steps backwards. Let’s look at a couple.

Networking the home is fine, but doing so so that you can remotely adjust the temperature across the network or run a bath from the office is utterly pointless. It adds the extra inconvenience of having to remember access details to an account, regularly updating security details, and having to recover when the company running it loses all your data to a hacker, all for virtually no benefit.

Monitoring what the user does and sending the data back to the supplier company so that they can use it for targeted ads is another huge step backwards. Advertising is already at the top of the list of things we already have quite enough. We need more resources, more food supply, more energy, more of a lot of stuff. More advertising we can do without. It adds costs to everything and wastes our time, without giving anything back.

If a company sells home automation stuff and wants to collect the data on how I use it, and sell that on to others directly or via advertising services, it will sit on their shelf. I will not buy it, and neither will most other people. Collecting the data may be very useful, but I want to keep it, and I don’t want others to have access to it. I want to pay once, and then own it outright with full and exclusive control and data access. I do not want to have to create any online accounts, not have to worry about network security or privacy, not have to download frequent software updates, not have any company nosing into my household and absolutely definitely no adverts.

Another is to migrate interfaces for things onto our smartphones or tablets. I have no objection to having that as an optional feature, but I want to retain a full physical switch or control. For several years in BT, I lived in an office with a light that was controlled by a remote control, with no other switch. The remote control had dozens of buttons, yet all it did was turn the light on or off. I don’t want to have to look for a remote control or my phone or tablet in order to turn on a light or adjust temperature. I would much prefer a traditional light switch and thermostat. If they communicate by radio, I don’t care, but they do need to be physically present in the same place all the time.

Automated lights that go on and off as people enter or leave a room are also a step backwards. I have fallen victim once to one in a work toilet. If you sit still for a couple of minutes, they switch the lights off. That really is not welcome in an internal toilet with no windows.

The traditional way of running a house is not so demanding that we need a lot of assistance anyway. It really isn’t. I only spend a few seconds every day turning lights on and off or adjusting temperature. It would take longer than that on average to maintain apps to do it automatically. As for saving energy by turning heating on and off all the time, I think that is over-valued as a feature too. The air in a house doesn’t take much heat and if the building cools down, it takes a lot to get it back up again. That actually makes more strain on a boiler than running at a relatively constant low output. If the boiler and pumps have to work harder more often, they are likely to last less time, and savings would be eradicated.

So, all in all, while I can certainly see merits in adding chips to all sorts of stuff, I think their merits in home automation is being grossly overstated in the current media enthusiasm, and the downside being far too much ignored. Yes you can, but most people won’t want to and those who do probably won’t want to do nearly as much as is being suggested, and even those won’t want all the pain of doing so via service providers adding unnecessary layers or misusing their data.

Active Skin part 3 – key fields and inventions

This entry only makes sense if you read the previous two parts!

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/active-skin-an-old-idea-whose-time-is-coming/

and

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/active-skin-part-2-initial-applications/

if you have looked at them, time to read this one. Remember, this is onl;y a list of the ideas we had way back in 2001, I haven’t listed any we invented since.

Key active skin technology fields

Many of our original ideas had similarities, so I analysed them and produced a set of basic platforms that could be developed. The following platform components are obvious:

  1. A multilevel device architecture with some of the layers in or on the body, working in conjunction.

Tattoo layer

  1. Sub-surface imprints that monitor various body state parameters, such as chemical, electrical, temperature, and signal this information to higher layer devices.
  2. Permanently imprinted ID circuitry or patterns
  3. Permanently imprinted display components
  4. Permanently imprinted circuitry to link to nerves
  5. Imprinted devices that use chemical energy from the body to power external devices, e.g. ATP

Mid-term layer

  1. Similar technology to tattoo layer but higher in skin so therefore degradable over time
  2. Soluble or body-degradable circuitry
  3. photodegradable circuitry
  4. transparent circuitry using transparent conducting polymers
  5. inconspicuous positioning systems
  6. devices that transfer body material such as DNA or body fluids to external devices
  7. imprinted data storage devices with I/O, or permanent dumb storage
  8. imprinted sensors and recorders for radiation, magnetic fields, electrical or mechanical variation
  9. imprinted signalling devices for communication between body devices and external world
  10. smart monitoring and alarm technology that integrates body or surface events or position to external behaviours such as control systems, or surveillance systems
  11. synthetic sense systems based on synthetic sensing and translation to biological sense and possibly direct nerve stimuli
  12. smart teeth with sampling and analysis functions with signalling and storage capability
  13. imprinted actuators using piezoelectric, memory metal or ‘muscle wire’ technology, interacting with external monitoring to use as interface or feedback devices
  14. infection monitor and control devices
  15. devices that make electrical or magnetic stimuli to assist wound healing or control pain
  16. semi-permanent tags for visitors, contractors, criminals and babies, location and context dependent
  17. medical tags that directly interact with hospital equipment to control errors, hold medical records etc
  18. links to nervous system by connecting to nerves in the skin and to outside by radio

Mid-term & Transfer Layers – Smart cosmetics

  1. semi-permanent self organising displays for applications such as smart nail varnish and smart cosmetics
  2. context sensitive cosmetics, reacting to time, location, person, emotions, temperature
  3. electrically sensitive chemicals that interact with imprinted electronic circuits
  4. semi-permanent underlay for smart overlays to assist self-organisation
  5. smart sunscreens with sensors and electro-active filters
  6. colour sensitive or exposure sensitive sun-blocks
  7. cosmetics with actuators in suspension controlled by embedded electronics
  8. Active jewellery, active Bindies etc , e.g. Led optical control linked to thought recognition system
  9. Smart perfumes that respond to context, temperature, location etc

Transfer Layer

This layer has by far the most opportunities since it is not restricted to materials that can be tolerated in the body, and can also use a factory pre-printed membrane that can be transferred onto the skin. It can encompass a wide range of devices that can be miniaturised sufficiently to fit in a thin flexible package. Many currently wearable devices such as phones and computers could end up in this layer in a few years.

Most of the mid-term and some of the tattoo layer devices are also appropriate at this layer.

  1. Smart fingerprints encompass range of ID, pressure detection, interfacing and powering devices
  2. Use of vibrating membranes as signalling, e.g. ring tone, alarms, synthetic senses etc, allows personal signalling. Possible use for insect repellent if ultrasonic vibration
  3. Use of ultrasound to communicate with outside or to constantly monitor foetus
  4. Use of touch or proximity sensitive membranes to allow typing or drawing on body surface, use of skin as part of input device, may use in conjunction with smart fingerprints for keypad-free dialling etc
  5. Palm of hand can be used as computer in conjunction with smart fingerprints
  6. Use of strain gauges in smart skin allows force measurement for interfaces, force feedback, policing child abuse etc
  7. Actuators built into membrane, allows program interface and force feedback systems, drug dosing, skin tensioning etc, use for training and games, sports, immersive environments etc.
  8. Use of combinations of such devices that measure distance between them, allowing training and monitoring functions
  9. Transfer on eye allows retinal display, ultraviolet vision, eye tracking, visual interface
  10. Transfer based phones and computers
  11. Electronic jewellery
  12. Direct link between body and avatars based on variety of sensors around body and force feedback devices, connection to nervous system via midterm layer devices
  13. Thermal membranes that change conductivity on demand to control heating or cooling, also use as alarm and signalling
  14. Electronic muscles based on contracting gels, muscle wires etc, used as temporary training devices for people in recovery or physiotherapy, or for sports training
  15. Electronic stimulation devices allowing electro-acupuncture, electrolysis, itching control etc
  16. Printed aerials worn on body
  17. Permanent EEG patches for use in thought recognition and control systems
  18. Emotionally sensitive electronics, for badges, displays, context sensitivity etc
  19. Olfactory sensors for environmental monitoring linked to tongue to enhance sense of smell or taste, or for warning purposes. Olfactory data could be recorded as part of experience for memory assistance later
  20. Power supplies using induction
  21. Frequency translation in ear patch to allow supersonic hearing
  22. Devices for pets to assist in training and health monitoring, control nerves directly, police virtual electric fences for cats
  23. Fingertip mouse and 3d interface
  24. E-cash on the skin, use simply by touching a terminal

Smart drug delivery

  1. Allowing variable hole membranes for drug dosing. Body properties used with ID patch to control drug dose via smart membrane. May communicate with hospital. Off  the shelf drug containers can then be used
  2. Control of pain by linking measurement of nerve activity and emotional cues to dispensing device

Fully removable layer

This layer is occupied by relatively conventional devices. There are no obviously lucrative technologies suggested for this layer.

Key Specific inventions

Taking another angle of view, the above applications and platforms yield 28 very promising inventions. In most cases, although humans are assumed to be the users, other animals, plants, inorganic objects such as robots or other machines, and even simple dumb objects may be targets in some cases.

*Asterixes indicate reference to another area from this set.

1         Sub-skin-surface imprints and implants

Sub-skin-surface imprints and implants that monitor various body state parameters, such as chemical, electrical, temperature, and signal this information to higher layer devices.

  • Circuitry is imprinted into the skin using ink-jet technology or high pressure diffusion. e.g. a hand may be inserted into a print chamber, or a print device may be held in contact with the required area.
  • Passive components such as ink patterns may be imprinted, which may function as part of a system such as a positioning system
  • Other small encapsulated components such as skin capsules* may be injected using high pressure air bursts.
  • Some of the circuit components assembled in situ may require high temperatures for a short time, but this would cause only momentary pain.
  • Deeper implants may be injected directly into the required position using needles or intravenous injection, allowing later transport to the required location in the blood flow.
  • The implants may anchor themselves in position by mechanical or magnetic means, their positioning determined in co-operation with higher layer devices.
  • Components may be imprinted higher in the skin to be capable or wearing away, or lower in the skin to ensure relative permanence, or to give greater contact with the body
  • Circuitry may be designed to be transparent to visible light by using transparent polymers, but may be visible under UV or infrared
  • Patterns implanted may be used as part of an external system. An ink-based pattern could be used as an identifier, for holding data, or as a means of positioning. They may be used as part of a, which would effectively be enhanced biometric security system.
  • Other identifiers may be permanently imprinted, which may be active or passive such as inductive loops, bar-codes, digital paper, snowflakes etc. Intra-skin power supplies* may be used to power more sophisticated tags that can be imprinted or injected
  • Circuitry or patterns may be harmlessly biodegradable so that it would vanish over time, or may be permanent.
  • they may be made photo-degradable so that it breaks down under external light of appropriate intensity and frequency, e.g. UV
  • Inks may be used that are rewritable, e.g. they change their colour when exposed to UV or a magnetic field, so data may be modified, and these devices are therefore dynamic data storage devices. They need not operate in the visible spectrum, since external sensors are not limited by human characteristics.
  • Baby tags may be inserted to prevent babies from being abducted

2         Skin conduits

Devices may be implanted that are able to act as a conduit to lower skin layers.

  • This may facilitate drug delivery, monitoring or nerve connection.
  • Probes of various types may be inserted through the conduits for a variety of medical or interface reasons.
  • Even body fluids and DNA samples may be extracted via these conduits.
  • This may provide a means of blood transfer for transfusion or blood cleaning, and a replacement for drips
  • Conduits would be sealed to prevent bacterial or viral entry except when actively in use.
  • The conduits can be implemented in several ways: tubes may be implanted that have muscle wires arranged so that when they contract the holes flatten and thus close; the walls of the tube may be comprised of magnetic materials so can be closed magnetically; the default position may be closed and magnetic repulsion is used to stretch the holes open; similarly, muscle wire may be used to open the holes by rounding a previously flattened hole; the open or closed states can be provided by elongating or shortening a tube; heat may be used to cause expansion or contraction; synthesised muscle tissue may be used to stretch the area and make holes open; shape change and memory metals or plastics may be used. Other techniques may be possible.

3         Implanted or imprinted links to nerves

  • Permanently imprinted circuitry to link to nerves would comprise electrical connections to nerves nearby, by means of conducting wires between nerves and the devices.
  • The devices meanwhile would be in communication with the higher layers.
  • They would signal impulses to higher layers and capable of producing impulses in various patterns into the nerves.
  • The connections would be made using specialised skin capsules* or directly injected wires.
  • These devices would encapsulate very thin wires that propagate out from the device on request until they make electrical contact with a suitable nerve. They may be wound in a spiral pattern inside the capsules and unwound to form radiating wires.
  • These wires may be made of metal today or carbon fullerene ‘buckytubes’ in due course
  • They may be connected by wire, radio or optical links to the external world
  • Being able to stimulate nerves directly implies that body movement could be directly controlled by an external system
  • It would be possible to implant control devices in people or animals in order to remotely control them
  • Although primarily a military technology, this would enable pets to be sent on a predetermined walk, to prevent children from stepping out in front of a car, to prohibit many crimes that are detectable by electronic means and a wide range of other ethically dubious activities
  • Nerve stimulation can be linked extensively into other electronic systems
  • Email or other communications could include instructions that translate into nerve stimuli in the recipient. This may link to emotional stimulation too. A very rich form of intimate communication could thus be achieved.
  • It would be possible to send an orgasm by email
  • Filters can easily prevent abuse of such a system, since the user would be able to block unauthorised nerve stimulation
  • For some purposes, this choice to block stimuli could be removed by a suitable authority or similar, for policing, military and control purposes

4         Sensory enhancement and translation technique

A range of sensors may be implanted that are sensitive to various forms of radiation, EM, magnetic fields, electrical fields, nuclear radiation or heat. These would form part of an augmented sensory system.

  • Conventional technology based radiation monitors worn on a detachable layer may monitor cumulative radiation dose, or record intensity over time.
  • Other conventional technology sensors may also be worn at the detachable layer, some my be imprinted or implanted.
  • They may be connected systemically with the nervous system using implanted or imprinted nerve links* to create nerve stimuli related to sensor activity.
  • An array of synthetic senses may thus be created that would facilitate operation in a range of environments and applications. A primary market would be for sexual use, where sexual stimulation can be produced remotely directly into the nervous system.
  • Nerve stimuli could be amplified to increase sensory sensitivity.
  • Alternatively, stimuli could be translated into vibration, heat, pain, other tactile stimulus, or audio that would be picked up by the body more easily than the original form.
  • Such sensory enhancement may be used to link stimuli in different people, or to link people with real or virtual objects.
  • When connected to deep implants in the brain, this could perhaps eventually be used to implement crude telepathic communication via a network.
  • Remote control of robotics or other external machinery may be facilitated by means of linking sensory stimuli directly to machine operations or sensors. The communication would be via implanted or imprinted antennae.
  • Active teeth* may be used as part of such a system
  • Frequency shifters in the ear would permit hearing outside of normal human capability
  • Ditto visual spectrum
  • People would be able to interact fully with virtual objects using such virtual sensory stimulation

5         Alarm systems

  • Sensors in or on the skin may be used to initiate external alarms or to initiate corrective action. For example, an old person taking a shower may not realise the water temperature is too high, but the sensors could detect this and signal to the shower control system.
  • The most useful implementation of this would be one or more thermocouples or infrared sensors implanted in the skin at or near areas most likely to be exposed first to hot water such as hands or feet.
  • Thermal membranes that change conductivity according to temperature could be used as a transfer layer device.
  • Such membranes may form a part of an external alarm or control system of signal the body by other senses that a problem exists
  • As well as signalling to external systems, these sensors will use implanted or imprinted nerve links* to initiate direct local sensory stimulation by means of vibration* or pain enhancement, or produce audible warnings.
  • Alarms may also be triggered by the position of the person. A warning may be set up by interaction of the implant and external devices. A circuit in the skin can be detected by an external monitor, and warn that the person is moving into a particular area. This may be used to set off an alarm or alert either secretly or to the knowledge of the either only the person or only the external system. This can obviously be used to police criminals on parole in much the same way as existing tags, except that the technology would be less visible, and could potentially cause a sensation or even pain directly in the criminal. A virtual prison could be thus set up, with it being painful to leave the confines set by the authorities.
  • This would permit the creation of virtual electric fences for animal confinement
  • Sensors may measure force applied to the skin. This would enable policing of child care, preventing physical abuse for example. Alerts could be sent to authorities if the child is abused.

6         Skin based displays

  • Permanently imprinted display components may be developed that use the energy produced in this way to produce light or dark or even colours.
  • These may emit light but may be simply patches of colour beneath the skin surface, which would be clearly visible under normal lighting.
  • Small ink capsules that deform under pressure,
  • electrostatic or magnetic liquids, liquid crystals or light emitting or colour changing polymers would all be good candidates

7         Intra-skin power supply

  • Inductive loops and capacitors may be used to power active components that can be imprinted or injected. Inductive loops can pick up electromagnetic energy from an external transmitter that may be in the vicinity or even worn as a detachable device. Such energy can be stored in capacitors.
  • Detachable devices such as battery based power supplies may be worn that are electrically connected to devices at lower layers, either by thin wires or induction.
  • Optical power supply may be adequate and appropriate for some devices, and this again can be provided by a detachable supply via the skin, which is reasonable transparent across a wide frequency range
  • Devices that use chemical energy from the body to power external devices, e.g. ATP
  • Thermal energy may be obtained by using temperature difference between the body and the external environment. The temperature gradient within the skin itself may be insufficient for a thermocouple to produce enough voltage, so probes may be pushed further into body tissue to connect to tissue at the full body temperature. The probes would be thin wires inserted either directly through the surface, or by skin capsules*.
  • Mechanical energy may also be used, harnessing body movement using conventional kinetic power production such as used in digital watches. Devices on the feet may also be used, but may be less desirable than other conventional alternatives.
  • Thin batteries such as polymer batteries may be worn on the detachable layer
  • Solar cells may be worn on the detachable layer

8         Antennas and communicators in or on the skin

  • Some of the many devices in the layered active skin systems require communication with the outside world. Many of these require only very short distance communication, to a detachable device in contact with the skin, but others need to transmit some distance away from the body. Various implementations of communication device are possible for these purposes.
  • A vertical wire may be implemented by direct insertion into the skin, or it may be injected
  • It may be printed using conductive inks in a column through the skin
  • It may be simply inserted into a skin conduit
  • Skin capsules* may eject a length of wire
  • Wires from skin capsules may join together to make a larger aerial of variable architecture
  • This may be one, two or three dimensional
  • Skin capsules may co-operate and co-ordinate their wires so that they link together more easily in optimal designs
  • Self organising algorithms may be used to determine which of an array of skin capsules are used for this purpose.
  • Optical transmitters such as LEDs may be used to communicate in conjunction with photodiodes, CCDs or other optical signal detectors
  • Vibration may be used to communicate between devices
  • Ultrasonic transducers and detectors may be used
  • Printed aerials may be worn as transfers or detachable devices. They may be electrically connected to devices directly or via high frequency transmission across the skin, or by local radio to other smaller aerials.

9         Smart teeth & breast implants

·         Various sampling, analysis, monitoring, processing, storage, and communication facilities may be added to an artificial tooth that may be inserted in place of a crown, filling, or false tooth. Powering may be by piezoelectric means using normal chewing as a power source, or for some purposes, small batteries may be used.

·         Infection monitoring may be implemented by monitoring chemical composition locally.

·         Conventional olfactory sensing may be used

  • Breath may be monitored for chemical presence that may indicate a range of medical or hygiene conditions, including bad breath or diabetes
  • Data may be stored in the tooth that allows interaction with external devices and systems. This could be a discrete security component, or it may hold personal medical records or a personal profile for an external system.
  • Significant processing capability could be built into the volume of a tooth, so it could act as a processor for other personal electronics
  • Small cameras could be built into the tooth
  • Piezoelectric speakers could be used to make the tooth capable of audio-synthesis. This could allow some trivial novelty uses, but could later more usefully be used in conjunction with though recognition systems to allow people to talk who have lost their voice for medical reasons. Having the voice originate from the mouth would be a much more natural interface.
  • Some of these functions could be implemented in breast implants, especially data storage – mammary memory! Very significant processing capability could also be implanted easily in the volume of a breast implant. MP3 players that can be reprogrammed by radio such as bluetooth and communicate with headphones also via bluetooth. Power in batteries can be recharged using induction
  • the terms ‘mammary memory’, and ‘nipple nibbles’ (a nibble is half a byte, i.e. 4 bits) see appropriate
  • breast implant electronics may be the heart of a body IT centre
  • taste and smell sensors in the tooth may be used as part of a sensory stimulation system whereby a sense of taste or smell could be synthetically recreated in someone who has lost this sense An active skin implant in the tongue, nose or a deeper implant in the appropriate brain region may be required to recreate the sense
  • this could be used to augment the range of taste or smell for normally sensed people in order to give them a wider experience or allow them to detect potentially dangerous gases or other agents, which may be physical or virtual
  • smart teeth may also make use of light emission to enhance a smile

10     Healing assistance devices and medical tags

 

  • Medical tags or semi-permanent tags* such as inductive loops can be imprinted that allow identification and store medical records. They may interact directly with equipment. This could be used for example to prevent operation errors. More sophisticated tags could be installed using skin conduits*
  • Active skin components may be used to apply an electric field across a wound, which has been shown to accelerate healing. These would be imprinted or implanted at a health centre during treatment. Voltage can be produced by external battery or power supply, by solar cells at the detachable layer, or by thermocouples that have probes at different body depths as described above.
  • Infection monitors can be implemented using chemical analysis of the area and by measuring the electrical properties and temperature of the region
  • The infection may be controlled by emission of electrical impulses and by secreting drugs or antibiotics into the area. This may be in conjunction with a detachable drug storage device, which can inject the drugs through skin conduits*.
  • Pain can be controlled to a point by means of electrical impulses that can be provided by the implants
  • The monitors may be in communication with a health centre.
  • Electrical impulses can be used to alleviate itching, and these could be produced by active skin components
  • Electronic acupuncture can be easily implemented using active skin, with implants at various acupuncture points precisely located by a skilled practitioner, and later stimulated according to a programmed routine
  • Electrolysis to prevent hair growth may be achieved by the same means

11     Semi-permanent tags

  • Semi-permanent tags or ID patterns may be implanted in upper skin layers to allow short term electronically facilitated access to buildings. The tags are not easily removable in the short term, but will vanish over a period of time depending on the depth of penetration. They may photo-degrade, biodegrade or simply wear away with the skin over time.
  • They may communicate electronically or optically with external systems
  • They may interact as part of alarm systems*
  • They may be aware of their position by means of detecting electronic signals such as GPS, wireless LANs
  • They may be used to give accurate positioning of devices on the skin surface or deeper, thus assisting automatic operations of medical equipment, in surgery, irradiation or drug dispensing
  • Babies can be secured against mistaken identification in hospital and their tags can interact with security systems to prevent their abduction. Proximity alerts could be activated when an unauthorised person approached them.

12     Self-organising circuits and displays

  • Self-organisation of circuits has been demonstrated and is known widely.
  • Active skin components with generic re-programmable circuitry may be installed and self-organisation used to configure the devices into useful circuits.
  • Components may be printed, injected or deposited via skin conduits* and may be contained in skin capsules*
  • Organisation can be facilitated or directed by external devices that provide position and orientation information as well as instructions to the embedded components
  • Combinations of display components may be linked by wires radiating out from each component to several other components, for instance by using skin capsules*. A self-organisation algorithm can be used to determine which connections are redundant and they can be withdrawn or severed. The remaining circuitry can be used as part of a control system to convert these individual display components into a co-ordinated display.
  • These display components may alternatively be painted onto skin, lip, eyelid or nail surfaces for example, to provide a multimedia display capability in place of conventional makeup and nail varnish. These displays would be less permanent than implanted circuitry
  • This body adornment could be more functional, with informative displays built in for some medical purpose perhaps. Text warnings and alerts could indicate problems.
  • Varnish would provide a high degree of protection for the components. Varnishes could also be fabricated to chemically assist in the self-organisation, by for example, providing a crystal matrix

13     Active Context-sensitive cosmetics and medicines

  • Cosmetics today are stand-alone combinations of chemicals, dies and aromatic agents. The addition of electronically active components either to the cosmetics themselves or into the underlying skin will permit them to be made intelligent
  • Cosmetics containing active skin components that interact with other layers and the outside world
  • Electrically sensitive chemicals would be useful components for such cosmetics. Many chemicals respond to electric fields and currents by changing their chemical bonding and hence optical properties. Some magnetic fluids are known that can be manipulated by magnetic fields. Active components may also be included that can change shape and hence their appearance, that are known in the field of digital ink.
  • Such chemicals may interact with underlying active skin circuits or components, and may respond to signals from external systems or active skin components or both
  • Cosmetics may use underlying active skin to facilitate precision location and some self-organisation
  • Active actuator components may be able to physically move cosmetics around on the skin surface
  • Characteristics of the appearance may depend on time of day, or location, or on the presence or properties of other environmental characteristics.
  • Sensors detecting UV may activate sunscreen components, releasing them from containers as required
  • Sensors detecting the presence of other cosmetics allow combination effects to be co-ordinated
  • Colours may change according to context, e.g. colour change lipstick and eye shadow
  • Kaleidoscopic or chameleon makeup, that changes colour in patterns regularly
  • Perfumes may be emitted according to context or temperature. This circumvents the problem where little perfume is given off when skin is cool, and much is lost outside in wind or when it is hot. Electronic control would allow more sophisticated evaporation for more consistent effect
  • Perfumes may be constructed with variable display properties that can be put on in variable quantities, with their precise effect controlled automatically by intelligence in the makeup or active skin
  • Make-up effects may be remotely controlled
  • Make-up may include light-emitting chemicals or electronics that are co-ordinated using active skin
  • Medicines may be administered on detection of allergenic agents such as pollen or chemicals
  • Active cosmetics may include actuators to contract the skin. The actuators would be based in small skin capsules* that would send thin wires into the skin to anchor themselves, and other wires to connect to other capsules
  • Intelligence in the cosmetics might be in constant or occasional communication with the manufacturer. This permits control of the effects by the manufacturer, and the capability to offer usage based licenses, making makeup into an ongoing service rather than a single product. This is implemented by adding active skin components that together communicate with nearby network connections
  • Cosmetics may adapt in appearance depending on the presence of signals. These signals may originate from other people’s active skin or from environmental systems. People wearing such cosmetics could thus look different to different people. Also, corporate styles could be implemented , controlled by building signalling systems.
  • Cosmetics may adjust automatically to ambient light conditions and local colours, allowing automated co-ordination with clothing and furnishing
  • Cosmetics may adjust their properties as part of an emotion detection and display system. This can be used to enhance emotional conveyance or to dampen emotional signals. They may also act as part of a psychological feedback loop that permits some emotional control

14     Digital mirror

  • A digital mirror, as described on my web site, has a combination of a camera and display that can show an image that may be the true image as the user, or a modified version of the user’s image. This disclosed concept is part of a wider non-disclosed system
  • Smart cosmetics may be used in conjunction with such a digital mirror
  • The cosmetic manufacturer or a service provider may use such a digital mirror to provide the customer with an enhanced view of themselves with various options, co-ordinating the application of smart make-up by means of ‘make-up by numbers’, and controlling its precise properties after application. Active skin components that are clinic installed could be used to provide the positioning systems and intelligence for the upper layers of removable cosmetics.
  • The customer would apply a quantity of makeup and then watch as various potential makeup effects are illustrated. On selection, that effect would be implemented, though several additional effects and contexts could be selected and assigned, and appropriate context effects implemented during the day. The effects could include the mechanical removal of wrinkles by means of actuators included in smart cosmetics*. Skin-based displays* may also form part of the overall effect.
  • Medicines may be applied in a similar way under control by a clinic.
  • Cosmetics may be controlled under license so that customers do not have unlimited freedom of appearance while wearing them. They may only be seen in a limited range of appearance combinations.

15     Active and emotional jewellery

  • Active Bindies, nose studs or other facial jewellery could be used as relatively deep implants to pick up reasonably good nerve signals from the brain as part of an EEG patch system*. These may be used to control apparatus via a signal recognition system.
  • Bindi would be top layer over active skin sub-layers and could contain much more complex chip than could be implanted in active skin
  • May contain battery and be used as power supply for sub-layers
  • Sub layers pick up clean signals from around scalp and send them to bindi for processing
  • Communication between devices may be radio or at high frequency via scalp
  • Infrared or ultrasound transmitter built into bindi relays the signals directly to external apparatus
  • Processing may recognise and process in-situ, transmitting control signals or data to external apparatus
  • Bindi may change appearance or include a display that reacts according to the signals detected
  • May act as emotion conveyance device
  • Signals from sensors in or on the skin can be used to pick up emotional cues, that are often manifested in changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, blood chemistry, skin resistivity and various muscular activity, some of which is subconsciously activated.
  • Collecting and analysing such data permits a range of electronics that responds to emotional activity. The active bind is just one piece of jewellery that may be useful in this regard, and is limited by culture.
  • Other forms of emotional jewellery may use displays or LEDs to indicate the wearer’s emotional state. Almost any form of jewellery could be used as part of this system, since active skin components that collect the data do not have to be in physical contact with the display devices
  • Active skin displays* may form part of this emotional display system
  • Active jewellery may also display data from other systems such as external computers or communication devices. This communication may be via active skin communication systems
  • Displays around the body may co-ordinate their overall effect via active skin devices
  • Emotions in groups of people may be linked together forming ‘emotilinks’ across the network, linking sensors, actuators, drug delivery systems and nerve stimulation together in emotion management systems. Drug delivery systems may instead dispense hormones
  • These systems may be linked into other electronic systems
  • Emotional messages may be sent that electronically trigger emotions in the recipient according to the intentions or emotions of the sender. Emotional email or voice messaging results. This enhances the capability and reach of communications dramatically.
  • Active jewellery such as a smart signet ring could be used as part of an authentication or security system, that may involve biometrics at any active skin layer as well as conventional electronic components and data that may also be housed in active skin

16     Active fingerprints

  • Active skin in the finger tip would greatly enhance interfacing to security systems and also to computer system interfaces, which can be made much more tactile
  • Smart fingerprints may include chips, passive ID, pressure indication, pressure transducers, vibration devices, interface and powering devices
  • Patterns and circuits built into the fingertips can link directly with external equipment by touch
  • Inductive loop in finger tip makes for simple ID system
  • Electronic signals can be conveyed in each direction for identification or programming or data transfer via contacts in the skin
  • A persons personal profile may be downloaded to an external system from data in the skin via such contacts. A computer can thus adapt instantly to the person using it
  • Data may be similarly ‘sucked up’ into body based storage via such contacts
  • Other devices elsewhere on the skin may be temporarily connected via high frequency transmission through the skin to the external system
  • Patterns visible in infrared or UV regions may be used
  • Ultrasonic vibrations may be used
  • Synthetic textures may be produced by keys by means of producing different vibration patterns than material would normally produce. This would assist greatly in the use of virtual environments to create synthetic objects
  • Actuators based on for example muscle wire can be used to stretch the skin in various directions, which conveys much information to the body on texture and other feedback. This can be by means of a rectangular wire with muscle wire between two opposite corners
  • Heat and cold can be produced as a feedback mechanism
  • Positioning systems incorporating the fingertips by means of inductive loop tracking, motion detectors and dead reckoning systems, allow interaction with virtual objects.
  • People could type in air, and feel physical feedback on interaction with objects, particularly useful in surgery using robotic tools.
  • Active skin with muscle wires implanted or imprinted at finger joints give a force feedback mechanism
  • Links between people may be formed by linking sensors in one person’s joints to actuators in another person’s. This would be useful for training purposes.
  • Vibrating membranes may be used as a signalling device. Vibration can be implemented via muscle wires or piezoelectric crystals in the detachable layer. These would allow personal signalling systems, ringing vibration, and development of synthetic senses*.
  • They may have some use in insect repellence if vibrations are ultrasonic
  • Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMs) implanted in the fingertips would allow a fingertip to be used as a mouse for a computer, by tracking movement accurately
  • Fingertip sensors could similarly be used to capture textures for re-use in virtual environment applications
  • Textures can be recreated in the fingertips by means of vibration devices
  • Electronic cash could be transferred through active fingerprints which also contain the authentication mechanisms as well as the means to transfer the cash
  • Short term software licenses could be implemented in this way, with the fingertip effectively holding a dongle

17     Ultrasonic monitors

  • An array of active skin devices may be arranged around the abdominal region of a pregnant woman, that would allow easy periodic ultrasonic monitoring of the baby during pregnancy.
  • Some patches of active skin would house ultrasound generators, and others would house ultrasound receivers. The system is therefore capable of bathing the baby in a well defined ultrasound field for monitoring purposes.
  • The patterns of reflections can be analysed by either processors in active skin or by a remote device, either worn or via the network, e.g. at a clinic. This produces images of the baby that can determine whether there is a problem. For instance, heartbeat and baby movements can easily be monitored.
  • Growth of cancers may be monitored in much the same way, with alerts automatically sent to hospital via the network if tumour size or growth rate exceeds a defined limit
  • A simple microphone may be sufficient for just heartbeat monitoring if that is all that is needed.
  • Ultrasonic communication to an external systems or another active skin device nearby.

18     Touch and proximity sensitive membranes

  • A region of active skin on the arm may be used as a data entry device such as a keyboard by means of adding positioning information such as digital paper patterns or other indication of location.
  • A simple circuit completion would suffice that could be implemented by contacts in close proximity that are connected when pressed, or by a sudden change in resistance or capacitance
  • Arm-embedded components can interact with active fingerprint components to enable easy data entry. Data may be transferred between arm and finger components
  • Different components in different fingers increase dramatically the range of combinations available. Different fingers may represent different tools in a drawing package for example
  • Visible patterns on the arm could indicate where the letters or other keys are. This indication could be a simple ink pattern.
  • Alternatively, display components in the skin may be used to create a dynamic keyboard or interface with different inputs according to application
  • Alternatively, a virtual display in a head-up display worn by the user could indicate the position of the appropriate keys without any visible pattern on the skin. Positioning may be by means of image analysis or by means of processing of the inputs from various inbuilt strain gauges
  • With a virtual display, no components at all are actually required in the arm to implement the minimal system (similar systems already exist with purely virtual keyboards).
  • Deeper ink patterns could enable a longer term keyboard
  • Data from the interface can be stored locally in memory implants or relayed at high frequency across the skin to other active skin system components
  • This could be used as a dialling keypad for cellphones
  • It may be used to enter security identification codes
  • A keyboard may be implanted in the palm of the hand as an alternative to the forearm to allow a computer to be effectively a ‘palm computer’, a ‘digital computer’, calculator or
  • interface to any electronic device carried on the person or across the network
  • signals from the interface may be relayed by a radio device elsewhere on the body

19     Use of strain gauges for touch sensitivity

  • A high degree of touch sensitivity is afforded by the body’s own sensory system, so this could act as a very high precision interface for some applications. The amount of pressure, or characteristics of strokes may be easily detected by the wearer to accurately control their input. Detection of this input can be by means of strain or relative position sensors
  • Alternatively, in later generations of the devices, signals may be directly picked up from the nervous system and appropriate analysis used to determine the precise input.
  • Touch or proximity sensors such as capacitors, inductors, piezoelectric strain gauges, movement detectors, or other devices in the arm can detect key-presses or drawing movements and could act as a mousepad
  • Relative movement between active skin components in touch sensitive membranes indicates not only what has been pressed but also by how much
  • Movement may be measured by change of capacitance between components, or change of resistance in conductive polymers attached to the skin, by induction changes, change of skin resistance itself, accumulated mechanical stress measurement or by other means
  • A system comprised of a range of such gauges and position sensors in various parts of the body may be used to gather a great deal of data about the movement of the body.
  • This may be used extensively in training and correction applications by means of force feedback or sensory amplification.
  • Force feedback or other actuator components* would give a signal or apply a force back to the body on detection of various parameter values. Movements may be precisely recorded and recreated via force feedback.
  • An expert recording the correct procedure can use such recording and force feedback to ‘play back’ a correct movement into the student. Repeated practice of the correct movement would enable rapid training
  • Computer games may also make use of this system in a ‘training mode’, where users learn to behave appropriately, thus improving the quality of game play
  • Highly specialised interfaces may be developed using a collection of appropriately configured gauges or sensors, with appropriate force of signal feedback devices
  • Such systems may be used to record the behaviour of people or animals for research, monitoring or policing purposes
  • Signal feedback systems may allow direct correction of such behaviours. See alarm systems.
  • The means to directly associate a movement or behaviour with pain would be a valuable means of training and controlling animals or criminals. Such feedback may also be linked to emotional states to control aggression for example. A combination of movements, position or emotional state may be used to prohibit certain behaviours in certain locations.
  • Strain gauges would be an important component of avatar based communication systems to allow the direct physical interaction of people across a network, whether a handshake or a hug or something more.

20     Force feedback and other actuators in skin

 

  • A range of actuators may be implanted or injected for various purposes
  • Muscle wires may be used as simple actuators
  • Some polymer gels may be made to respond mechanically to various stimuli. These may be used as synthetic muscles in some systems and membranes composed of these may be key active skin components
  • Membranes with arrays of holes may be used to control drug delivery as part of an active skin system. Such membranes may be dumb, or may contract in response to electronic or thermal stimuli from other components. Obviously holes will contract as the membrane contracts, thereby giving a means of controlling drug dosing
  • Such membranes may provide a convenient means of allowing blood exchange for blood cleaning and processing (e.g. for dialysis)
  • Ultrasonic actuators may be used or signalling between devices
  • Lower frequency may be used to create sensation of texture
  • Stretching, compression and torsion may be used in force feedback and signalling
  • Actuators may be used to open or close holes in the skin or activate skin conduits*
  • These holes may be used usefully as part of drug delivery systems or as a means of implanting devices or other materials
  • They may be used extensively as part of force feedback and interface devices as described above for training, communication, monitoring or corrective purposes
  • Systems using combinations of such force feedback and actuators may be used for medical purposes
  • Holes with actuators mounted across them may be opened or closed on command
  • These work in conjunction with higher layers to allow smart and precise drug delivery in a feedback loop with monitoring systems. Health or nerve signal monitors may allow direct control of such holes and actuators in drug dispensers
  • Actuators may respond directly to skin temperature
  • Actuators may form part of alarm systems
  • Exoskeletal structures based on actuators may be implemented to give physical assistance or support, especially for disabled or frail people. This would require large areas of such actuator membranes
  • Physical appearance may be controlled to a degree by such membranes or implants, that would shape the body, reduce wrinkles, reduce the impact of fat, tone muscles etc
  • They may work in conjunction with electrical stimuli for muscle toning, which currently needs external pads and power supplies

21     Active contact lens

  • Active contact lens has been wholly disclosed in the form of a removable contact lens that acts as a dumb display
  • It could however be differently realised by using active skin instead of a detachable contact lens
  • Active contact lens may include actuator components that stretch or compress the eye to correct vision for all distances
  • Lens components could be implanted in eye surface using above techniques
  • Signals displayed may originate in other active skin components elsewhere on body
  • Processing may be embedded in nearby skin outside the eye
  • Powering could be inductive or ultrasonic
  • Tracking of the eyeball can be in conjunction with other nearby components such as proximity and position detectors
  • Light may be produced externally (e.g. by lasers adjacent to the eyeball) and the lens merely reflects it to its proper destination by means of micromirrors
  • Lens film may contain identification circuitry or data that can be conveyed to an external system by passive recognition or active transmission
  • Images seen by the eye may be processed and recorded by nearby active skin components and relayed to storage or transmitted on a network
  • Appropriate implanted dyes could facilitate ultraviolet vision
  • Appropriate infrared detectors and lasers may be used to enable infrared vision
  • Other sensory data from sensors elsewhere on the skin or fully externally, may be projected in the image produced by the active skin implant

22     Skin-based processing, memory, and consumer electronics

 

  • Miniaturised circuitry will soon allow very small versions of many popular devices.
  • These circuits may fit in a single skin capsule or be distributed across several capsules.
  • These capsules contain means to connect with others and with the outside as well as housing some electronics capability
  • They will be able to produce phones, calculators, computers, storage devices, MP3 players, identifiers, electronic cash, text readers, scanners
  • Some of these would benefit from being implemented in active fingerprint systems
  • Capsules may be directly injected or inserted into a skin conduit, perhaps facilitated by various actuators for positioning and connection
  • They may be easily ejected by the skin conduits if necessary
  • Ingestion or ejection may be by means of peristaltic motion of the skin conduit, facilitated by means of contractible rings
  • A wide range of sensors are now available in watches and other small wearable devices, to monitor parameters such as air and skin temperature, air pressure, direction, blood pressure, pulse, heart beat, walking distance, GPS location and navigation, paging, infrared controls, voice recording and others. Many of these can be sufficiently miniaturised to be embedded in or on one or more active skin layers. The performance of some of the sensors would be improved
  • Membrane based transfers implementing these devices may be easily attached to the skin and easily removed if required. They may co-operate with other permanent or temporary active skin devices
  • Transfer based electronic jewellery* may interact with smart cosmetics* and other inbuilt processing or memory

23     Body-avatar link

  • Avatars will be an important communication tool in the near future. Avatars may be controlled manually or via video image interpretation, which is complex and invasive. Active skin presents an efficient means of accurately controlling avatars.
  • Sensors in skin at key parts of the body, e.g. finger joints, hands, wrists, elbows and face can be used to detect body movement and position.
  • They may also detect emotional state and audio
  • Data from the sensors may be transmitted to a central body transmitter for collation, pre-processing or simply transmission
  • This information is relayed via active skin or other transmitters to a computer, phone or other conferencing device. The phone may itself be an active skin component
  • The body position and movement information is transmitted across the link, and used to control the avatar movements directly
  • Interactions between avatars in virtual space are relayed back to the people involved via force feedback membranes, pressure transducers, smart fingerprints to convey texture, and direct nerve stimulation using nerve links.
  • A highly sensory realistic communications link is thus established between the inhabitants of the virtual environment which is potentially far richer than that which may be obtained without the use of active skin or a full body suit.
  • Inhabitants need not be real people, but may be synthetic entities such as computer game characters or interactive TV avatars
  • Almost all functions of body suits may be replaced by active skin components, which do not interfere with normal clothing and are therefore much less invasive
  • If all the above components are implemented in active skin, it is possible that avatars may be controlled without the knowledge of anyone else present, making a very discrete interface
  • Instead of controlling avatars, the link may be used to directly control a robot. Sensors in the robot could be linked to senses in the human, allowing a high quality implementation of telepresence and teleaction. This would be very useful for surgery or for maintenance in hostile environments. It would also be useful for police or military use to control robots or androids in hostile environments.
  • Surgical applications could be enhanced by filtering and pre-processing the body movements and possible translating them into a appropriate actions for robotic surgical apparatus. For example, large jerky hand movements may be converted into small smoother scalpel movements.
  • Again, such systems may be used extensively for training or correction purposes, or for interaction with computer games
  • Interactive TV may use such avatar links to permit greater participation of remote audience members
  • Visual systems may be linked to such active skin avatar links so that people can interact with avatars on the move rather than just when confined to a conferencing suite or in front of a computer monitor
  • This permits people to interact fully with virtual objects and characters overlaid in the real environment

24     EEG patches

 

  • An array of smart skin patches on the scalp could be arranged to collect electrical signals from the brain.
  • Such devices could make it less invasive for EEG patients who need repeated investigation
  • Devices would signal using high frequency electrical signals or by ultrasound to other sensors or collectors or processors.
  • Signals could be relayed to external apparatus by a single contact point or by means of radio aerials, LEDs or an active bindi.
  • Such signals may be used for conventional medical analysis purposes,
  • or may be used for thought recognition purposes, whereby pattern recognition technology is applied to analysis of the signals from the various sensors.
  • Sensors need not only be on the scalp, but could be anywhere on the body, such as fingertips.
  • Lie detection may be implemented using a combination of data regarding such brain signals and other data regarding emotional state, blood hormone or other chemical content, skin conductivity, temperature, pulse etc All of these data types are liable to address by active skin variants
  • Signals from the scalp may be used to control medical prostheses to assist disabled people. The intention to move an arm could result in the arm moving for example. Nerve signals for such applications may be detected on the scalp, or nearer to the prosthesis.
  • Active skin in the stump could be used for this purpose and also to inject synthetic senses back into the nervous system by way of feedback from the prosthesis
  • Such patches may be used as a component of a policing system for criminals, whereupon certain types of thought pattern result in the creation of pain

25     Use with or in place of active clothing

 

Many of the applications discussed above would work well in harmony with active clothing, most of which is known technology. Active clothing already houses consumer electronics, reacts thermally and optically to the environment, monitors body activity, reports on injuries and casualty location, injects antibiotics, antiseptics and anaesthetics in case of battlefield injury. A wide variety of other ‘smart’ capabilities is also available off the shelf or in prototype.

Some of these clothes require data that can best be obtained by active skin. For example:

  • Active skin can house the identity and personal profile for use by active clothing
  • Active clothing may provide the power supply or communications for active skin
  • Active clothing may contain medical apparatus that is controlled in conjunction with active skin and a remote clinic
  • Active skin may actually replace some clothing in terms of thermal and chemical protection
  • Active skin may act as a final line of defence on a battlefield by filtering out hostile bacteria, viruses or chemicals and in due course act to protect against nanotechnology or micro-technology attack
  • Active skin may physically repair organic skin tissues or augment them with self-organising self-constructing membranes
  • Active skin may contain synthetic hairs that may be extended or contracted to provide variable thermal protection, and also to help filter out bacteria
  • With a high degree of such protection against nature, clothing may be more optional, especially if active inks and other display components are used to change the optical appearance of the body for cultural reasons
  • Key active skin components of this system are displays, actuators, sensors, reservoirs, membranes, processors, signalling and aerials

26     Skin capsules

  • A range of skin capsules for various purposes may be developed, which are capable of being injected into the skin by high pressure air, or inserted through skin conduits
  • Skin conduits themselves may be implanted as a special case of skin capsules. They may start off as a spherical device and then open up into a ‘pore’ once implanted
  • Skin capsules may contain drugs or other chemicals for various purposes
  • They may house substantial quantities of electronics for processing, memory, analysis or sensory purposes
  • They may house MEM devices that are capable of mechanical interaction with surrounding tissues
  • They may house a range of actuator devices or wires
  • They may house wires for the purpose of connection to nearby capsules or devices, for example to make antennas
  • They may house identification devices or data
  • These wires may be metallic, organic polymer, shape memory alloy, memory plastic, or buckminster fullerene tubes
  • Capsules may be made of any materials that is largely inert regarding body tissues. Titanium and its alloys, glass and ceramics, diamond film coated materials, gold, platinum and surgical steel and many plastics, as well as some biodegradable and soluble materials etc would be good for some purposes, but other materials may be better for some purposes

27     Drug delivery system

  • Drugs may be administered under control by means of active skin systems
  • Membranes may be contracted so that the holes shrink and drugs cannot permeate as quickly through the membrane
  • Blood chemistry may be analysed by active skin lower layers to detect the amount of drugs needed in order to control such membranes. They can also monitor the rate of diffusion of the drug into the bloodstream
  • Clinics can communicate via the network with such systems and active skin devices react to such communication to effect drug delivery under remote supervision, while sensors in the body transmit their information via aerials to the clinic
  • Membranes may be made to react to environmental conditions such as pollen content. These can then form part of the sensory array as well as permitting appropriate diffusion of anti-allergy drugs
  • Drugs may be contained in external reservoirs or in skin capsules* or in patches e.g. nicotine patches. The rates of diffusion may be altered by means of active membranes or via skin conduits.

28     Animal husbandry technology

  • Active skin drug delivery systems* may be used extensively on farm livestock to control drugs use on a wide scale
  • Captured wild animals may be tagged and fitted with such systems to control their reproduction or behaviours, or to protect them against diseases
  • Active skin tags may be used to track and monitor the behaviour of such animals
  • Sensory stimulation and translation devices may be used to train animals for certain tasks
  • This may also be used in conjunction with control systems to automatically steer or co-ordinate groups of animals
  • Sensory systems in individual animals may be linked together with others, not necessarily of the same species, to make super-sensory collections of animals with unusual properties
  • Robotic animals may be able to interface with real ones by manipulating their sensory inputs
  • Drug development may be enhanced by gaining extra feedback via active skin technology on the condition of animals being experimented upon