Category Archives: police

How to make a Spiderman-style graphene silk thrower for emergency services

I quite like Spiderman movies, and having the ability to fire a web at a distant object or villain has its appeal. Since he fires web from his forearm, it must be lightweight to withstand the recoil, and to fire enough to hold his weight while he swings, it would need to have extremely strong fibers. It is therefore pretty obvious that the material of choice when we build such a thing will be graphene, which is even stronger than spider silk (though I suppose a chemical ejection device making spider silk might work too). A thin graphene thread is sufficient to hold him as he swings so it could fit inside a manageable capsule.

So how to eject it?

One way I suggested for making graphene threads is to 3D print the graphene, using print nozzles made of carbon nanotubes and using a very high-speed modulation to spread the atoms at precise spacing so they emerge in the right physical patterns and attach appropriate positive or negative charge to each atom as they emerge from the nozzles so that they are thrown together to make them bond into graphene. This illustration tries to show the idea looking at the nozzles end on, but shows only a part of the array:printing graphene filamentsIt doesn’t show properly that the nozzles are at angles to each other and the atoms are ejected in precise phased patterns, but they need to be, since the atoms are too far apart to form graphene otherwise so they need to eject at the right speed in the right directions with the right charges at the right times and if all that is done correctly then a graphene filament would result. The nozzle arrangements, geometry and carbon atom sizes dictate that only narrow filaments of graphene can be produced by each nozzle, but as the threads from many nozzles are intertwined as they emerge from the spinneret, so a graphene thread would be produced made from many filaments. Nevertheless, it is possible to arrange carbon nanotubes in such a way and at the right angle, so provided we can get the high-speed modulation and spacing right, it ought to be feasible. Not easy, but possible. Then again, Spiderman isn’t real yet either.

The ejection device would therefore be a specially fabricated 3D print head maybe a square centimeter in area, backed by a capsule containing finely powdered graphite that could be vaporized to make the carbon atom stream through the nozzles. Some nice lasers might be good there, and some cool looking electronic add-ons to do the phasing and charging. You could make this into one heck of a cool gun.

How thick a thread do we need?

Assuming a 70kg (154lb) man and 2g acceleration during the swing, we need at least 150kg breaking strain to have a small safety margin, bearing in mind that if it breaks, you can fire a new thread. Steel can achieve that with 1.5mm thick wire, but graphene’s tensile strength is 300 times better than steel so 0.06mm is thick enough. 60 microns, or to put it another way, roughly 140 denier, although that is a very quick guess. That means roughly the same sort of graphene thread thickness is needed to support our Spiderman as the nylon used to make your backpack. It also means you could eject well over 10km of thread from a 200g capsule, plenty. Happy to revise my numbers if you have better ones. Google can be a pain!

How fast could the thread be ejected?

Let’s face it. If it can only manage 5cm/s, it is as much use as a chocolate flamethrower. Each bond in graphene is 1.4 angstroms long, so a graphene hexagon is about 0.2nm wide. We would want our graphene filament to eject at around 100m/s, about the speed of a crossbow bolt. 100m/s = 5 x 10^11 carbon atoms ejected per second from each nozzle, in staggered phasing. So, half a terahertz. Easy! That’s well within everyday electronics domains. Phew! If we can do better, we can shoot even faster.

We could therefore soon have a graphene filament ejection device that behaves much like Spiderman’s silk throwers. It needs some better engineers than me to build it, but there are plenty of them around.

Having such a device would be fun for sports, allowing climbers to climb vertical rock faces and overhangs quickly, or to make daring leaps and hope the device works to save them from certain death. It would also have military and police uses. It might even have uses in road accident prevention, yanking pedestrians away from danger or tethering cars instantly to slow them extra quickly. In fact, all the emergency services would have uses for such devices and it could reduce accidents and deaths. I feel confident that Spiderman would think of many more exciting uses too.

Producing graphene silk at 100m/s might also be pretty useful in just about every other manufacturing industry. With ultra-fine yarns with high strength produced at those speeds, it could revolutionize the fashion industry too.

The future of liberty

I was born in 1960. I had an enjoyable childhood, my friends and I doing all the sorts of things young boys did then – playing games, climbing trees, exploring, building hideouts, making dams, vandalizing derelict houses, making crop circles, playing with knives and matches and so on. I was free, and I enjoyed life to the full. I never did anyone any significant harm at all, and had a ball of a time until I discovered girls. Even then, it was only a slow and partial decline into the complexity and mixed emotions of adulthood.

In some ways I envy the kids of today with their access to the net and computers and high-tech, but I don’t envy them at all in terms of liberty. I don’t think the world is anything like as free as it was. Oppression lurks everywhere. Playgrounds are censored of anything remotely dangerous. Games are rapidly being censored of hard contact, and of competition. School lunch boxes are being checked to make sure they don’t contain sugary snacks. Salt, fat, and sugar levels in foods are all being reduced, entire food groups oppressed, everything in an increasing range of national restaurant or sandwich chains has to be Halal. Soon we’ll all have to live on lettuce.

It is almost impossible to buy a wide range of chemicals that used to be freely available, and even though I can understand why, it is still a reduction of freedom. Ditto sharp knives.

Lots of places are blocked off in case a determined kid could hurt themselves, lots of activities cancelled because of insurance and licensing issues, an indirect form of oppression perhaps but a loss of freedom certainly.

Everything online is monitored all the time, by numerous governments and large companies. Most physical activities are likely to be monitored by some CCTV or other. We’d never have dared to do much of what we did if CCTV had been everywhere back then. More importantly, even if a few things we did were technically outlawed, the worst the police would ever have done would be to threaten to tell our parents if we didn’t stop – we never did anything that bad.

Today, kids need to worry about getting a criminal record if they so much as make a nasty comment at another kid, in the playground or online or by text. They don’t have to burn the school down or beat other kids up to get in trouble now. Making a negative comment about someone else’s appearance or gender or sexuality or race or religion is quite enough, and that all adds up to quite a lot of rules for a young kid to keep in mind 24-7. I don’t think there is any exaggeration in saying that a 5-year-old today has to worry far more about their behavior at school than I did until I’d graduated from university.

As a director of my own company, I can write my blogs without any pressure from company brand-enforcers or personnel, and I don’t have to worry about appraisals. Theoretically, nobody tells me what to write. But I still have to self-censor just like everyone else. I have to be very careful how I phrase things if I am writing about any minority, I often have to avoid mentioning unfortunate facts or statistics that might later be considered by someone to put them in a negative light, and I steer well away from some topics altogether. I don’t need to list sensitive topics, you have to be careful around them just as much as I do.

As a kid, I was marginally aware of the existence of the police and the theoretical possibility of being caught if we did something too naughty. For me, it’s only occasionally irritating having to obey the law – I don’t actually want to commit crime anyway, so until recently it was only things like too low speed limits where the law itself was the real constraint to my freedom. Now the potential for overenthusiastic police to investigate any comment that might be deemed by anyone to be slightly offensive to anyone else means an oppression field exists around every keyboard. Orwell was right on all but dates.

It often seems that the official police are the least of our worries though. The real police are the social networks and the web. If you tweet something and it annoys some people, you will soon feel the wrath, even if it is a simple statement of fact or an innocent opinion. Even if it is entirely legal, if it falls into any of dozens of sensitive areas it might well jeopardize your next job, or the one after that, and it will likely stay there for ever. Or it might result in some busybody making a complaint to the police who do seem rather too politically correct and in spite of ‘the cuts’ seem to manage to find resources to police a wide range of things that were considered well outside the domain of the law until recently.

I’ve said it many times, but as people stopped believing in God, they didn’t stop being religious. Political correctness is simply one of the traits of 21st century piety. The very same people are politically correct today as were the holier-than-thou types looking down at everyone else in church a few decades ago. Now, the platform for gossip or petitions or many other means to undermine you is the net, but the potential audience is far bigger. The problem isn’t the religious nuts in a local church any more, it is a global church with multiple religions and a wide variety of religious nuts. If you tweet something, you may get retaliation from people anywhere in the world.

For me, the thought police are the biggest threat to liberty, and they threaten it globally. Government everywhere wants to close down any discussion that might cause tension between communities. Some even want to close down scientific debates such as on climate change. The UK, the USA, even Australia are all badly infected with the same libertyphobia, the same preference of oppression over liberty. Much of the media is highly complicit in wave after wave of censorship, even as they fight against other areas of censorship. Freedom of speech no longer exists, however much our leaders try to pretend they are protecting it.

Universities are following enthusiastically too. Several times recently speakers have been barred from universities because their message didn’t align with the political correctness there. It is shameful that institutions that sprung up to educate and debate and further knowledge are complicit in restricting and perverting it. It is even more worrying that it is often the student unions leading the closing down of freedom of speech. If you are only free to say one thing, you are not free at all.

Technology today is infinitely better than when I was a kid. In so many ways, the world is a far better place. On liberty, we have gone backwards.

I can draw only one conclusion: the future of liberty is a gilded cage.



The future of knights

Some ideas pass the test of time. Most people have watched a film about knights, even if it is just the superb spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I watched yet again this weekend.

Although it is meant to be any soldiery type on horseback, or someone awarded a title of Sir, the common understanding of the term is far higher than just someone who was employed for a decade or two as a public sector worker or donated to a political party. Sir Bigdonor is no match for Sir Gallahad.

The far better concept of a knight that we all recognize from movies and games is someone with the highest level of ethics, wisdom and judgment coupled to the highest level of fighting skill to uphold justice and freedom. That is a position most of us would love to be able to qualify for, but which almost all of us know we actually fall very far short.

A vigilante may consider themselves to be a defender of the universe, but they often get in the way of proper law enforcement whereas a knight is officially recognized and authorized, having demonstrated the right qualities. Whether it’s King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table, Jedi Knights, Mass Effect’s Spectres, or even Judge Dredd, knights are meant to uphold the highest standards with the blessing of the authorities. Importantly, they still have to operate within the law.

A single country would not be able to authorize them if they need to operate anywhere, so it would need to be the UN, and it’s about time the UN started doing its job properly anyway.  A knight must not be biased but must have the common interests of all mankind at heart. The UN is meant to do that, but often shows alarmingly poor judgement and bias so it is currently unfit to control a force of knights, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed, and if not the UN, we’d still need some globally accepted authority in control.

These days, the networks are often the platform on which wrongdoers do their wrongs. We need network knights, who can police the net with the blessing of the authorities. IT Knights could be anywhere and police the net, taking down bad sites, locating criminals, exposing crime, detecting terrorism before it happens, that sort of thing. But hang on, we already have them today. They are already a well-established part of our national security. The things missing are that they are still directed by national governments, not a global one, and they’re not called knights yet, and maybe they don’t have the glamour and the frills and the rituals and fancy uniforms and toys.

What’s really missing is the more conventional knight. We need them back again. Maybe the top members of the UK’s SAS or SBS or the US Marines, or other national equivalents, chosen for incorruptible ethical and moral fibre with their elite fighting skills just getting them on the shortlist. This elite of elites would be a good starting point to try out the concept. Maybe they need to be identified early on in the training processes associated with those military elites, then streamed and taught highest human values alongside fighting skills.

It would be a high honour to be chosen for such a role, so competition would be fierce, as it ought to be for a knight. Knowing the title can be removed would help keep temptation away, otherwise power might corrupt.

I have no doubt that such upstanding people exist. There are probably enough of them to staff a significant force for good. We have plenty of models from cultural references, even modern equivalents from sci-fi. However, the recent fashion for sci-fi heroes is to have significant character flaws, emotional baggage. Inevitably that ends up with conflict, and perhaps real life would need more boring, more stable, more reliable and trustworthy types, more Thunderbirds or Superman than Avengers, Dredd or Watchmen. On the other hand, to keep public support, maybe some interest value is essential. Then again, I fall so far short of the standard required, maybe I am not fit even to list the requirements, and that task should be left to others who hold the benefit of humankind closer to heart.

What do you think? Should we bring back knights? What requirements should they have? Would you want your child to grow up to be one, with all the obvious dangers it would entail?


The future of Jihad

Another in my ‘future of’ alphabetic series, finally managed to muster the energy to write something on J. ‘The future of jobs’ is just too dull to bother with, so is justice, but jihad is topical.

From Wikipedia:

Jihad (English pronunciation: /dʒɪˈhɑːd/; Arabic: جهاد jihād [dʒiˈhæːd]) is an Islamic term referring to the religious duty of Muslims to maintain the religion. In Arabic, the word jihād is a noun meaning “to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere.”

The common everyday understanding of jihad is associated with holy war, proselytize Islam by peaceful or military means, e.g. Jihadi John and his ISIS colleagues, and that’s what this blog is about.

About 20 years ago or so, Europe decided on a ‘soft warfare’ approach to defense. It seemed quite clever at the time. Here in the UK, we were all watching Neighbours, an Australian soap, scheduled just before evening meal as a wind-down from work (that was before we all worked 8 to 6). As a result, many Brits wanted to emigrate to Oz. Without firing a single shot, Australia managed to get Britain to yearn for its ways of life and treat it with greater respect. If you think about it, that’s what war does. You kill enough of the enemy and cause the rest enough pain and suffering until they finally submit and accept your way of doing things. Neighbours might not have been intended as a soft warfare campaign, but it succeeded tremendously. That idea spread through the Euro-elite which decided that ‘winning hearts and minds’ were the way to go, basically being nice instead of shooting people, using foreign aid to propagate EU ideals of democracy instead of old-style colonization. It has stuck pretty well, and fits especially well with the left-wing mindset that dominates decisions in most of modern Europe. Hawks are out of fashion.

Since then, a few actual wars rather spoiled the purity of soft warfare, but even in the Middle East conflicts, the hearts-and-minds approach has a real presence. It undoubtedly saves a lot of lives on both sides.

However, let’s look at how ISIS and its nouveau jihad is also adopting that same idea.

I wrote recently that Islam is badly in need of modernization:

Well, ISIS gleefully makes good use of social media to recruit followers around the world, and understands well about influencing hearts and minds as part of their approach. It is ironic that the most medieval, anti-modern-world branch of Islamism is the most comfortable with modern technology and marketing (‘marketing’ is the word we use now for propaganda, when ‘education’ isn’t appropriate).

However, since I wrote that blog just 2 months ago, the world has changed substantially. Europe has shown utter incompetence in dealing with the migrant crisis (refugee crisis if you watch Channel 4 or the BBC). Our leaders totally ignored my advice on what was then merely the Mediterranean Crisis, but then again, it is extremely unlikely that they read my blog:

Instead they made the problem a whole lot worse, greatly amplifying the numbers attempting the journey across the Med and thereby inadvertently causing more deaths by drowning as well as destroying much of the good will between countries that holds the EU together. The idiotic open doors policy advocated by Angela Merkel and Co. has broadcast a loud message to the entire developing world that anyone that would like to be richer but doesn’t want to bother with quaint ideas like law and order or applying for immigration can just pretend to be fleeing something, force their way past a few overwhelmed security guards, and will be given a free home, medical care, education, welfare and generally a life of relative milk and honey in the EU. All they have to do is throw away their papers and say they are from Syria or another war zone. The British approach of focusing on helping actual refugees instead of economic migrants has been widely condemned as utterly uncaring. Estimates vary wildly but anything up to 80% of those entering the EU are economic migrants. Many of the ones fleeing wars or  persecution have passed through perfectly safe countries on their way, so when they left those countries they stopped being asylum seekers or refugees and started being economic migrants. Few can genuinely claim that the EU is the first place of safety they have reached. But if the doors are wide open, why accept less than the best deal around?

ISIS are well aware of this, and have openly stated that they intend to use the mass migration to move ISIS terrorists into Europe, hidden among the crowds. Those terrorists, and those whom they infect with their ideology on arrival, are a direct part of their Jihad. They cause people to flee, and then hide among them. So that’s the first part of the nouveau jihad, the hard jihad, an actual invasion by the back door, with lots of help from useful idiots in government, media and assorted NGOs.

The second part of the Jihad is the Islamification of Europe via cultural aggression, soft warfare, soft Jihad. As often is the case in war, truth is the first casualty, and since Orwell, we know that language is the key to perception of truth. That insight has been harnessed in peacetime every bit as much as in war. By simple verbal inversion of morality that has been achieved in the last two decades, anything West (or Christian) is bad and anything anti-West is good. That has left Europe and America extremely vulnerable to this soft jihad. Moral equivalence and political correctness have eroded confidence in our own morality, even inverted some of it. Even when comparing with the worst atrocities of ISIS, many people will immediately raise anything the West has ever done that wasn’t 100% perfect as if it is absolutely equivalent. Harnessing language as a soft warfare tool, Islamist activists have managed to achieve the victory that to criticize anything coming from Islam is called Islamophobia to make it sound like the person doing the criticism is in the wrong. Furthermore, they have also manipulated the lack of cohesiveness in the Muslim community to conflate Islam and Islamism. The extremists use the whole Muslim population to demand protection for their smaller Islamist subsection, hiding among genuinely peace-loving people, masquerading as part of that ‘overwhelming majority of peace-loving Muslims’ while simultaneously preaching jihad. Even the police are so terrified of being called racist or Islamophobic that they have allowed crimes such as child abuse, rape and violence against women to flourish in some areas, suggesting it is just ‘cultural difference’. By capturing just a few words, Islamists have managed to get a free pass, with the police defending them instead of those they oppress. With a few more words, standards of animal welfare have been sacrificed and many food chains now only stock halal products. With a few more, dress codes in some areas are enforced. Desperate to protect the Muslim community against any retaliation, in London a significant rise of crime against Muslims was widely reported and condemned, whereas a far larger increase in crimes against Jews went almost unreported and unmentioned.

For reasons I don’t understand, media around Europe have tried to help government hide their incompetence in the migrant crisis by conflating the terms migrants and refugees and pretending that every one is deserving of help. Every report seems to use the word ‘desperate’ and every camera seems to be aimed at lovely families with adorable young children in genuine need of help rather than the healthy young men who comprise 80% of the migrants. Every report finds those most deserving of asylum and ignores the rest. Acts of violence by migrants are ignored. This almost universally welcoming message is seen by those everywhere who want a better life, and the fittest compete to get here before the doors close. Anyone wanting to escape justice, or wanting to bring Islamism or criminal enterprise to our countries, can hide in the throng and with many having no papers or false papers, they can be sure of escaping identification. Many that need help most won’t get it because someone less in need has already taken their place.

The jihad effects are already appearing. Germany is reportedly already facing problems, with crowds of young men causing problems, and widespread rape, women abuse and child abuse in migrant camps, with locals being told to cover up so as not to offend the Muslims in case of ‘misunderstandings’. Worse still, the police apparently adopted a policy of attempting to hide these problems, because they don’t want people to turn against Muslims. Even as the first wave has entered Germany, the resident population has been told firmly that it is they who must adapt to Islam, not the migrants who must adopt German values.

Here in the UK, it is a daily occurrence to hear of instances where something has been banned or a speaker refused permission to speak in case it might offend Muslims. The latest is Warwick university Student Union, refusing to allow Maryam Namazie, an ex-Muslim who escaped persecution in Iran, to speak there because she wanted to speak against such oppression. The excuse was because they didn’t want Muslims to be offended. Her own response is worth a read:

No reverse protection exists for those offended by Islamic values. They must remain quiet or be arrested as Islamophobic, even though, as Namazie clearly points out, it is not the person they hate but the belief.

That is the ‘soft warfare’ jihad. Capture the left, the media, the police, and finally the law. To ensure peace, Islam must be protected from criticism while anything in conflict must be adapted to Islamic values, because Islam won’t change to accommodate host society.

Our culture has a legally enforced Islamic diode. Unless that changes, jihad will be successful.

Soft jihad has already been extremely successful, and will be amplified further via migration, while the migrant crowds will bring the hard jihad hidden in their midst.

Ironically, the worst to suffer from this may be the 68% of Muslims who just want to live in peace and harmony with everyone else. They suffer just as badly from inevitable backlash and prejudice as the 32% who don’t, and often suffer directly from Islamist oppression too.


The future of air

Time for a second alphabetic ‘The future of’ set. Air is a good starter.

Air is mostly a mixture of gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, but it also contains a lot of suspended dust, pollen and other particulates, flying creatures such as insects and birds, and of course bacteria and viruses. These days we also have a lot of radio waves, optical signals, and the cyber-content carried on them. Air isn’t as empty as it seems. But it is getting busier all the time.

Internet-of-things, location-based marketing data and other location-based services and exchanges will fill the air digitally with fixed and wandering data. I called that digital air when I wrote a full technical paper on it and I don’t intend to repeat it all now a decade later. Some of the ideas have made it into reality, many are still waiting for marketers and app writers to catch up.

The most significant recent addition is drones. There are already lots of them, in a wide range of sizes from insect size to aeroplane size. Some are toys, some airborne cameras for surveillance, aerial photography, monitoring and surveillance, and increasingly they are appearing for sports photography and tracking or other leisure pursuits. We will see a lot more of them in coming years. Drone-based delivery is being explored too, though I am skeptical of its likely success in domestic built up areas.

Personal swarms of follower drones will become common too. It’s already possible to have a drone follow you and keep you on video, mainly for sports uses, but as drones become smaller, you may one day have a small swarm of tiny drones around you, recording video from many angles, so you will be able to recreate events from any time in an entire 3D area around you, a 3D permasuperselfie. These could also be extremely useful for military and policing purposes, and it will make the decline of privacy terminal. Almost everything going on in public in a built up environment will be recorded, and a great deal of what happens elsewhere too.

We may see lots of virtual objects or creatures once augmented reality develops a bit more. Some computer games will merge with real world environments, so we’ll have aliens, zombies and various mythical creatures from any game populating our streets and skies. People may also use avatars that fly around like fairies or witches or aliens or mythical creatures, so they won’t all be AI entities, some will have direct human control. And then there are buildings that might also have virtual appearances and some of those might include parts of buildings that float around, or even some entire cities possibly like those buildings and city areas in the game Bioshock Infinite.

Further in the future, it is possible that physical structures might sometimes levitate, perhaps using magnets, or lighter than air construction materials such as graphene foam. Plasma may also be used as a building material one day, albeit far in the future.

I’m bored with air now. Time for B.

The future of freedom of speech

This is mainly about the UK, but some applies elsewhere too.

The UK Police are in trouble yet again for taking the side of criminals against the law-abiding population. Our police seem to have frequent trouble with understanding the purpose of their existence. This time in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, some police forces decided that their top priority was not to protect freedom of speech nor to protect law-abiding people from terrorists, but instead to visit the newsagents that were selling Charlie Hebdo and get the names of people buying copies. Charlie Hebdo has become synonymous with the right to exercise freedom of speech, and by taking names of its buyers, those police forces have clearly decided that Charlie Hebdo readers are the problem, not the terrorists. Some readers might indeed present a threat, but so might anyone in the population. Until there is evidence to suspect a crime, or at the very least plotting of a crime, it is absolutely no rightful business of the police what anyone does. Taking names of buyers treats them as potential suspects for future hate crimes. It is all very ‘Minority Report’, mixed with more than a touch of ‘Nineteen-eighty-four’. It is highly disturbing.

The Chief Constable has since clarified to the forces that this was overstepping the mark, and one of the offending forces has since apologised. The others presumably still think they were in the right. I haven’t yet heard any mention of them saying they have deleted the names from their records.

This behavior is wrong but not surprising. The UK police often seem to have socio-political agendas that direct their priorities and practices in upholding the law, individually and institutionally.

Our politicians often pay lip service to freedom of speech while legislating for the opposite. Clamping down on press freedom and creation of thought crimes (aka hate crimes) have both used the excuse of relatively small abuses of freedom to justify taking away our traditional freedom of speech. The government reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre was not to ensure that freedom of speech is protected in the UK, but to increase surveillance powers and guard against any possible backlash. The police have also become notorious for checking social media in case anyone has said anything that could possibly be taken as offensive by anyone. Freedom of speech only remains in the UK provided you don’t say anything that anyone could claim to be offended by, unless you can claim to be a member of a preferred victim group, in which case it sometimes seems that you can do or say whatever you want. Some universities won’t even allow some topics to be discussed. Freedom of speech is under high downward pressure.

So where next? Privacy erosion is a related problem that becomes lethal to freedom when combined with a desire for increasing surveillance. Anyone commenting on social media already assumes that the police are copied in, but if government gets its way, that will be extended to list of the internet services or websites you visit, and anything you type into search. That isn’t the end though.

Our televisions and games consoles listen in to our conversation (to facilitate voice commands) and send some of the voice recording to the manufacturers. We should expect that many IoT devices will do so too. Some might send video, perhaps to facilitate gesture recognition, and the companies might keep that too. I don’t know whether they data mine any of it for potential advertising value or whether they are 100% benign and only use it to deliver the best possible service to the user. Your guess is as good as mine.

However, since the principle has already been demonstrated, we should expect that the police may one day force them to give up their accumulated data. They could run a smart search on the entire population to find any voice or video samples or photos that might indicate anything remotely suspicious, and could then use legislation to increase monitoring of the suspects. They could make an extensive suspicion database for the whole population, just in case it might be useful. Given that there is already strong pressure to classify a wide range of ordinary everyday relationship rows or financial quarrels as domestic abuse, this is a worrying prospect. The vast majority of the population have had arguments with a partner at some time, used a disparaging comment or called someone a name in the heat of the moment, said something in the privacy of their home that they would never dare say in public, used terminology that isn’t up to date or said something less than complimentary about someone on TV. All we need now to make the ‘Demolition Man’ automated fine printout a reality is more time and more of the same government and police attitudes as we are accustomed to.

The next generation of software for the TVs and games consoles could easily include monitoring of eye gaze direction, maybe some already do. It might need that for control (e.g look and blink), or to make games smarter or for other benign reasons. But when the future police get the records of everything you have watched, what image was showing on that particular part of the screen when you made that particular expression, or made that gesture or said that, then we will pretty much have the thought police. They could get a full statistical picture of your attitudes to a wide range of individuals, groups, practices, politics or policies, and a long list of ‘offences’ for anyone they don’t like this week. None of us are saints.

The technology is all entirely feasible in the near future. What will make it real or imaginary is the attitude of the authorities, the law of the land and especially the attitude of the police. Since we are seeing an increasing disconnect between the police and the intent behind the law of the land, I am not the only one that this will worry.

We’ve already lost much of our freedom of speech in the UK. If we do not protest loudly enough and defend what we have left, we will soon lose the rest, and then lose freedom of thought. Without the freedom to think what you want, you don’t have any freedom worth having.


The future of drones – predators. No, not that one.

It is a sad fact of life that companies keep using the most useful terminology for things that don’t deserve it. The Apple retina display, which makes it more difficult to find a suitable name for direct retinal displays that use the retina directly. Why can’t they be the ones called retina displays? Or the LED TV, where the LEDs are typically just LED back-lighting for an LCD display. That makes it hard to name TVs where each pixel is actually an LED. Or the Predator drone, as definitely  not the topic of this blog, where I will talk about predator drones that attack other ones.

I have written several times now on the dangers of drones. My most recent scare was realizing the potential for small drones carrying high-powered lasers and using cloud based face recognition to identify valuable targets in a crowd and blind them, using something like a Raspberry Pi as the main controller. All of that could be done tomorrow with components easily purchased on the net. A while ago I blogged that the Predators and Reapers are not the ones you need to worry about, so much as the little ones which can attack you in swarms.

This morning I was again considering terrorist uses for the micro-drones we’re now seeing. A 5cm drone with a networked camera and control could carry a needle infected with Ebola or aids or carrying a drop of nerve toxin. A small swarm of tiny drones, each with a gram of explosive that detonates when it collides with a forehead, could kill as many people as a bomb.

We will soon have to defend against terrorist drones and the tiniest drones give the most effective terror per dollar so they are the most likely to be the threat. The solution is quite simple. and nature solved it a long time ago. Mosquitos and flies in my back garden get eaten by a range of predators. Frogs might get them if they come too close to the surface, but in the air, dragonflies are expert at catching them. Bats are good too. So to deal with threats from tiny drones, we could use predator drones to seek and destroy them. For bigger drones, we’d need bigger predators and for very big ones, conventional anti-aircraft weapons become useful. In most cases, catching them in nets would work well. Nets are very effective against rotors. The use of nets doesn’t need such sophisticated control systems and if the net can be held a reasonable distance from the predator, it won’t destroy it if the micro-drone explodes. With a little more precise control, spraying solidifying foam onto the target drone could also immobilize it and some foams could help disperse small explosions or contain their lethal payloads. Spiders also provide inspiration here, as many species wrap their victims in silk to immobilize them. A single predator could catch and immobilize many victims. Such a defense system ought to be feasible.

The main problem remains. What do we call predator drones now that the most useful name has been trademarked for a particular model?


The future of prying

Prying is one side of the privacy coin, hiding being the other side.

Today, lots of snap-chat photos have been released, and no doubt some people are checking to see if there are any of people they know, and it is a pretty safe bet that some will send links to compromising pics of colleagues (or teachers) to others who know them. It’s a sort of push prying isn’t it?

There is more innocent prying too. Checking out Zoopla to see how much your neighbour got for their house is a little bit nosy but not too bad, or at the extremely innocent end of the line, reading someone’s web page is the sort of prying they actually want some people to do, even if not necessarily you.

The new security software I just installed lets parents check out on their kids online activity. Protecting your kids is good but monitoring every aspect of their activity just isn’t, it doesn’t give them the privacy they deserve and probably makes them used to being snooped on so that they accept state snooping more easily later in life. Every parent has to draw their own line, but kids do need to feel trusted as well as protected.

When adults install tracking apps on their partner’s phones, so they can see every location they’ve visited and every call or message they’ve made, I think most of us would agree that is going too far.

State surveillance is increasing rapidly. We often don’t even think of it as such, For example, when speed cameras are linked ‘so that the authorities can make our roads safer’, the incidental monitoring and recording of our comings and goings collected without the social debate. Add that to the replacement of tax discs by number plate recognition systems linked to databases, and even more data is collected. Also ‘to reduce crime’, video from millions of CCTV cameras is also stored and some is high enough quality to be analysed by machine to identify people’s movements and social connectivity. Then there’s our phone calls, text messages, all the web and internet accesses, all these need to be stored, either in full or at least the metadata, so that ‘we can tackle terrorism’. The state already has a very full picture of your life, and it is getting fuller by the day. When it is a benign government, it doesn’t matter so much, but if the date is not erased after a short period, then you need also to worry about future governments and whether they will also be benign, or whether you will be one of the people they want to start oppressing. You also need to worry that increasing access is being granted to your data to a wider variety of a growing number of public sector workers for a widening range of reasons, with seemingly lower security competence, meaning that a good number of people around you will be able to find out rather more about you than they really ought. State prying is always sold to the electorate via assurances that it is to make us safer and more secure and reduce crime, but the state is staffed by your neighbors, and in the end, that means that your neighbors can pry on you.

Tracking cookies are a fact of everyday browsing but mostly they are just trying to get data to market to us more effectively. Reading every email to get data for marketing may be stretching the relationship with the customer to the limits, but many of us gmail users still trust Google not to abuse our data too much and certainly not to sell on our business dealings to potential competitors. It is still prying though, however automated it is, and a wider range of services are being linked all the time. The internet of things will provide data collection devices all over homes and offices too. We should ask how much we really trust global companies to hold so much data, much of it very personal, which we’ve seen several times this year may be made available to anyone via hackers or forced to be handed over to the authorities. Almost certainly, bits of your entire collected and processed electronic activity history could get you higher insurance costs, in trouble with family or friends or neighbors or the boss or the tax-man or the police. Surveillance doesn’t have to be real time. Databases can be linked, mashed up, analysed with far future software or AI too. In the ongoing search for crimes and taxes, who knows what future governments will authorize? If you wouldn’t make a comment in front of a police officer or tax-man, it isn’t safe to make it online or in a text.

Allowing email processing to get free email is a similar trade-off to using a supermarket loyalty card. You sell personal data for free services or vouchers. You have a choice to use that service or another supermarket or not use the card, so as long as you are fully aware of the deal, it is your lifestyle choice. The lack of good competition does reduce that choice though. There are not many good products or suppliers out there for some services, and in a few there is a de-facto monopoly. There can also be a huge inconvenience and time loss or social investment cost in moving if terms and conditions change and you don’t want to accept the deal any more.

On top of that state and global company surveillance, we now have everyone’s smartphones and visors potentially recording anything and everything we do and say in public and rarely a say in what happens to that data and whether it is uploaded and tagged in some social media.

Some companies offer detective-style services where they will do thorough investigations of someone for a fee, picking up all they can learn from a wide range of websites they might use. Again, there are variable degrees that we consider acceptable according to context. If I apply for a job, I would think it is reasonable for the company to check that I don’t have a criminal record, and maybe look at a few of the things I write or tweet to see what sort of character I might be. I wouldn’t think it appropriate to go much further than that.

Some say that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear, but none of them has a 3 digit IQ. The excellent film ‘Brazil’ showed how one man’s life was utterly destroyed by a single letter typo in a system scarily similar to what we are busily building.

Even if you are a saint, do you really want the pervert down the road checking out hacked databases for personal data on you or your family, or using their public sector access to see all your online activity?

The global population is increasing, and every day a higher proportion can afford IT and know how to use it. Networks are becoming better and AI is improving so they will have greater access and greater processing potential. Cyber-attacks will increase, and security leaks will become more common. More of your personal data will become available to more people with better tools, and quite a lot of them wish you harm. Prying will increase geometrically, according to Metcalfe’s Law I think.

My defense against prying is having an ordinary life and not being famous or a major criminal, not being rich and being reasonably careful on security. So there are lots of easier and more lucrative targets. But there are hundreds of millions of busybodies and jobsworths and nosy parkers and hackers and blackmailers out there with unlimited energy to pry, as well as anyone who doesn’t like my views on a topic so wants to throw some mud, and their future computers may be able to access and translate and process pretty much anything I type, as well as much of what I say and do anywhere outside my home.

I find myself self-censoring hundreds of times a day. I’m not paranoid. There are some people out to get me, and you, and they’re multiplying fast.




Estimating IoT value? Count ALL the beans!

In this morning’s news:

£1.6M investment by UK Technology Strategy Board in Internet-of-Things HyperCat standard, which the article says will add £100Bn to the UK economy by 2020.

Garnter says that IoT has reached the hype peak of their adoption curve and I agree. Connecting machines together, and especially adding networked sensors will certainly increase technology capability across many areas of our lives, but the appeal is often overstated and the dangers often overlooked. Value should not be measured in purely financial terms either. If you value health, wealth and happiness, don’t just measure the wealth. We value other things too of course. It is too tempting just to count the most conspicuous beans. For IoT, which really just adds a layer of extra functionality onto an already technology-rich environment, that is rather like estimating the value of a chili con carne by counting the kidney beans in it.

The headline negatives of privacy and security have often been addressed so I don’t need to explore them much more here, but let’s look at a couple of typical examples from the news article. Allowing remotely controlled washing machines will obviously impact on your personal choice on laundry scheduling. The many similar shifts of control of your life to other agencies will all add up. Another one: ‘motorists could benefit from cheaper insurance if their vehicles were constantly transmitting positioning data’. Really? Insurance companies won’t want to earn less, so motorists on average will give them at least as much profit as before. What will happen is that insurance companies will enforce driving styles and car maintenance regimes that reduce your likelihood of a claim, or use that data to avoid paying out in some cases. If you have to rigidly obey lots of rules all of the time then driving will become far less enjoyable. Having to remember to check the tyre pressures and oil level every two weeks on pain of having your insurance voided is not one of the beans listed in the article, but is entirely analogous the typical home insurance rule that all your windows must have locks and they must all be locked and the keys hidden out of sight before they will pay up on a burglary.

Overall, IoT will add functionality, but it certainly will not always be used to improve our lives. Look at the way the web developed. Think about the cookies and the pop-ups and the tracking and the incessant virus protection updates needed because of the extra functions built into browsers. You didn’t want those, they were added to increase capability and revenue for the paying site owners, not for the non-paying browsers. IoT will be the same. Some things will make minor aspects of your life easier, but the price of that will that you will be far more controlled, you will have far less freedom, less privacy, less security. Most of the data collected for business use or to enhance your life will also be available to government and police. We see every day the nonsense of the statement that if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear. If you buy all that home kit with energy monitoring etc, how long before the data is hacked and you get put on militant environmentalist blacklists because you leave devices on standby? For every area where IoT will save you time or money or improve your control, there will be many others where it does the opposite, forcing you to do more security checks, spend more money on car and home and IoT maintenance, spend more time following administrative procedures and even follow health regimes enforced by government or insurance companies. IoT promises milk and honey, but will deliver it only as part of a much bigger and unwelcome lifestyle change. Sure you can have a little more control, but only if you relinquish much more control elsewhere.

As IoT starts rolling out, these and many more issues will hit the press, and people will start to realise the downside. That will reduce the attractiveness of owning or installing such stuff, or subscribing to services that use it. There will be a very significant drop in the economic value from the hype. Yes, we could do it all and get the headline economic benefit, but the cost of greatly reduced quality of life is too high, so we won’t.

Counting the kidney beans in your chili is fine, but it won’t tell you how hot it is, and when you start eating it you may decide the beans just aren’t worth the pain.

I still agree that IoT can be a good thing, but the evidence of web implementation suggests we’re more likely to go through decades of abuse and grief before we get the promised benefits. Being honest at the outset about the true costs and lifestyle trade-offs will help people decide, and maybe we can get to the good times faster if that process leads to better controls and better implementation.


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.