Category Archives: security

Video intercom, another ancient idea come true

Another ancient prediction come true. This one from June 1993, an idea I had and developed with my colleague Chris Winter. Simple idea, just link a video camera on the front door to the network so you can screen people remotely for entry.

Here’s the latest incarnation in today’s paper. Surprising that it has taken so long really. I was concerned in 1993 that it may have been too obvious:

Here’s my original description:

Videophone Intercom, 10 Jun 1993
Ian Pearson, Chris Winter

To summarise, the videophone intercom is a device located at a household front door. A caller would push the button, whereupon an autodialler would call up the resident at his remote location (e.g. at work). The resident would then be able to identify the caller, check ID, and then arrange access if appropriate.
The cost of video cameras on chips has fallen dramatically – in bulk, they can shortly be obtained for as little as £10. Many users will soon have videophones on their desks or at home. Autodiallers and intercom systems can also be made very cheaply. The whole system cost could therefore be quite low. Such devices would offer a much higher level of security than simple audio systems. The number to be dialled could be changed remotely.
Useful additions might be to add a video terminal or phone inside the house, perhaps even just on the inside of the door to give enhanced security before opening the door to a stranger. There need be no way of telling from the door whether the resident is using his home display or a remote videophone.
There are equivalent other industrial uses, such as remotely manning a salesroom or stores.
video intercom

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 immigration: rational v emotional response

People use emotions and rational thinking in parallel. There is a clear role for each. Emotions create a driving force towards a goal, and rational thinking works best to figure out the best strategy to achieve it. So, you see a delicious cake that you’d very much like to eat, emotional bit complete. Your rational thinking kicks in and works out that you need to enter the shop, indicate your choice, hand over some cash and then take the cake and bite into it. Your rational thinking also interrupts with some possibly relevant queries – is it good value compared to the one next to it that looks just as nice? Do you have your best suit on and is it likely to ruin it? How many calories might it be? That sort of thing is a typical everyday challenge we all face and a well-developed brain allows emotions and rationality to work in perfect harmony to add pleasure to our day within our means. Emotions and intellect should also work in harmony when we are faced with danger or unpleasant situations such as seeing others in danger or suffering.

This last few months, we’ve all seen the trauma suffered by millions of refugees from tribal and religious wars in the Middle East and Africa, and most of us want to help them. The photo of the drowned toddler this week made lots of people suddenly very emotional, but in response to their resultant wave of competitive emoting and sometimes quite sickening sanctimony, the rest of us might reasonably inquire firstly why these people didn’t care beforehand like the rest of us and secondly why they think that the best way to respond is to switch off their brains. People have been suffering years, not just this last week. One toddler death is very sad but so are the many thousands of deaths beforehand that didn’t get photographed. And the way to avoid future deaths isn’t necessarily to do the very first thing that pops into your head.

UK Rational Response

With its well-established values, the UK was culturally-emotionally driven to help and has done more to actually help so far than any other European country, including giving 50% more to help refugees so far than Germany. Cameron often makes idiotic decisions, but he is right this time that the best way to help is not to let everyone into Britain but instead to contribute heavily to making effective safe havens and refugee centers near the refugee sources, e.g Syria. This is by far the best policy for a number of reasons.

Doing that helps genuine refugees. The inhabitants of refugee camps are far more likely to be genuinely fleeing from danger and in need of protection, far less likely to be economic migrants.

They are also far less likely to be ISIS terrorists trying to get entry to Europe to cause trouble, or criminals fleeing from justice than those fighting their way through train stations and disobeying police.

Better still, the UK policy helps the most vulnerable refugees – the old and the frail and the too young or too afraid to make the journey all the way to Northern Europe. Some of the most vulnerable will be allowed to come to Britain from those refugee centres.

The UK policy also helps genuine refugees without contributing to ISIS and the other likely destinations of the people traffickers fees. Each migrant squeezed onto an unsafe boat is another £2000 to a terrorist or criminal group, making the problem worse.

Using refugee centers and safe havens near to their own country avoids some of the long term problems associated with immigration to a foreign land, such as cultural conflicts.

Best of all, the UK policy of taking people from the camps and refusing those that have made the long and perilous journey to demand entry discourages people from taking that risk and therefore reduces the problem. Fewer toddlers will drown if people realize that it is best for their family to stay put than to take a huge risk to travel to a closed door.

Emotional response

Contrast this with the policy advocated by those sanctimonious emoters screaming about how wonderful and loving they are and how heartless everyone else is – that we should let everyone in. If we adopted that policy the result would be increased death and misery:

More and more people would want to come if they realize that the door to a better life is wide open.

The number of deaths would sharply increase as more and more criminal gangs and terrorist groups start trafficking.

Greater revenue would flow to ISIS and other terrorist and criminal groups, increasing their power and consequent problems in the countries people are fleeing from.

Allowing in those that made the journey might look charitable but actually it protects the strong rather than the weak. The weak could not come. Why allow a fit young man entry and deny a pregnant mother who wasn’t able to make the trip? Surely the young man should have stayed to fight to protect his vulnerable compatriots instead of fleeing for his own safety?

The number of terrorists and criminals entering among ordinary migrants and refugees would greatly increase (ISIS has already stated its guidance to followers try to enter the UK to commit terrorist acts here) leading to greatly increased security problems here, and resulting in probable backlash against genuine refugees, making it worse here for genuine refugees as well as the rest of us. Levels of crime and terrorism would increase greatly. (One of the reasons Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern countries have stated why they won’t accept refugees is because terrorists and criminals are likely to try to hide in their midst.) I have previously estimated the likely scale of ISIS type terrorism in the UK and it is a big potential problem indeed. Increasing the numbers of supporters, recruits and even actual terrorists won’t help.

The numbers of economic migrants would also greatly increase. If the sheer weight of numbers of migrants coupled to political pressure from emotional activists means that no clear distinction is made between genuine refuges and all the others, then most people in the developing world might soon consider Europe an attractive option. There is no upper limit to migrant numbers until Europe is reduced in attractiveness to levels similar to migrant countries of origin.

Low-paid workers in host countries would find even greater downward pressure on wages, resulting in greater unemployment and poverty. Homeless people would find it harder to get homes. Sick people would find it harder to get access to medical care. All citizens would see greater pressure on public services and infrastructure. There are already significant conflicts throughout Europe between immigrant communities and host societies due to resource competition, and these would increase greatly as immigrant numbers put high pressure on infrastructure, public services and welfare. Cultural conflict is increasing too, especially with Islamic immigrant communities. Racial and religious conflict would increase.

The result would be a broken society, with increased poverty, increased crime and terrorism, decreased safety and security for everyone, increased social conflict, greater racism, and the inevitable rise of extremist groups on both sides.

Managed Immigration and Asylum

We need immigrants. We don’t educate enough doctors or engineers (or many other worker groups) so we need to fill posts with people from overseas. That need won’t go away. However, with very limited spare capacity in our already overpopulated country, we should limit normal immigration to those people we need and just a few others.

On top of that, humanity demands that we do our best to help people in need elsewhere. Obviously we don’t have enough resources to make everyone in the world wealthy so we must do what we can using our foreign aid budget and personal donations to whatever charities we think do a good job. Where people are displaced due to conflict, we should do what we can to give them safe havens, preferably without building instability and making future problems worse. Using our own and allied military to provide no-fly zones can make swathes of a country safer. UN peacekeeping forces could also be used if need be to protect people in those zones. That allows people to stay in their own country or an adjacent one with similar culture. Costs of providing and managing safe havens could be shared across all the rich nations, reducing unwillingness of potential host nations to offer them.

It is not always necessary to offer full immigration to people just to give them safe haven. Asylum should be reserved for those who genuinely cannot stay where they are, and where a problem is temporary, such as conflict, asylum could also be temporary. There is no reason to confuse short term and long term solutions.

A refugee stops being a refugee once they have found a safe refuge. If they carry on beyond that because another country offers a higher standard of living, they become an economic migrant and should only retain refugee status in that first safe country. It is good policy to ensure that refugees register in the first safe country they come to and Europe should enforce that policy and Europe should choose where to house them, not allow or encourage people to shop around for the best deal. It is entirely possible for the costs of providing them with safe refuge could be distributed among richer nations, wherever they are actually placed. Where asylum in another country is appropriate, asylum seekers should be welcomed as far as socio-economic capacity allows. Few people object to hosting and welcoming genuine asylum seekers.

Economic migrants should apply for immigration according to normal procedures. Those trying to jump the queue by forcing their way in, demonstrating and resisting police, clearly have little respect for the laws and well-being of the countries they wish to enter and should be returned to where they came from and barred from future entry. Looking at the very high proportion of healthy young men among the occasional refugee family, women and children, it is clear that this group represents most of the number currently migrating. Most are not genuine refugees but economic migrants. It is easy to understand that they want a better and wealthier life, hard to see why they should be preferred as an immigrant over a law-abiding and highly skilled alternative. Queue-jumping should result in being put to the back of the queue.

With properly managed policy, safe havens would protect refugees. Those in need of asylum could be provided with it, the rest protected where they are, or even returned to safe havens if they do not properly qualify. With economic migrants turned away and barred from future entry, the numbers attempting the journey would reduce, and with it the number of deaths and the support for terrorist groups.

In closing, I don’t think I have said much that hasn’t been said many times, but adding to the weight of such comment offsets to a small degree to over-emotional and counter-productive sanctimony I see every night on the news. In short, we should do what we can do to help people in danger and distress, but we won’t do that by creating problems in our own country.

Knee-jerk emotional responses that are socially, economically and even militarily unsustainable such as tearing down national boundaries and letting everyone in who has made the journey to our door will make things a lot worse for everyone.

Open your heart and your wallet and help, like the UK has, but don’t switch your brain off, as Germany and others advocate. Germany is not for the first time making Europe a more dangerous place, ironically due to a national guilt trip on account of the previous occasions.

How nigh is the end?

“We’re doomed!” is a frequently recited observation. It is great fun predicting the end of the world and almost as much fun reading about it or watching documentaries telling us we’re doomed. So… just how doomed are we? Initial estimate: Maybe a bit doomed. Read on.

My 2012 blog addressed some of the possibilities for extinction-level events possibly affecting us. I recently watched a Top 10 list of threats to our existence on TV and it was similar to most you’d read, with the same errors and omissions – nuclear war, global virus pandemic, terminator scenarios, solar storms, comet or asteroid strikes, alien invasions, zombie viruses, that sort of thing. I’d agree that nuclear war is still the biggest threat, so number 1, and a global pandemic of a highly infectious and lethal virus should still be number 2. I don’t even need to explain either of those, we all know why they are in 1st and 2nd place.

The TV list included a couple that shouldn’t be in there.

One inclusion was an mega-eruption of Yellowstone or another super-volcano. A full-sized Yellowstone mega-eruption would probably kill millions of people and destroy much of civilization across a large chunk of North America, but some of us don’t actually live in North America and quite a few might well survive pretty well, so although it would be quite annoying for Americans, it is hardly a TEOTWAWKI threat. It would have big effects elsewhere, just not extinction-level ones. For most of the world it would only cause short-term disruptions, such as economic turbulence, at worst it would start a few wars here and there as regions compete for control in the new world order.

Number 3 on their list was climate change, which is an annoyingly wrong, albeit a popularly held inclusion. The only climate change mechanism proposed for catastrophe is global warming, and the reason it’s called climate change now is because global warming stopped in 1998 and still hasn’t resumed 17 years and 9 months later, so that term has become too embarrassing for doom mongers to use. CO2 is a warming agent and emissions should be treated with reasonable caution, but the net warming contribution of all the various feedbacks adds up to far less than originally predicted and the climate models have almost all proven far too pessimistic. Any warming expected this century is very likely to be offset by reduction in solar activity and if and when it resumes towards the end of the century, we will long since have migrated to non-carbon energy sources, so there really isn’t a longer term problem to worry about. With warming by 2100 pretty insignificant, and less than half a metre sea level rise, I certainly don’t think climate change deserves to be on any list of threats of any consequence in the next century.

The top 10 list missed two out by including climate change and Yellowstone, and my first replacement candidate for consideration might be the grey goo scenario. The grey goo scenario is that self-replicating nanobots manage to convert everything including us into a grey goo.  Take away the silly images of tiny little metal robots cutting things up atom by atom and the laughable presentation of this vanishes. Replace those little bots with bacteria that include electronics, and are linked across their own cloud to their own hive AI that redesigns their DNA to allow them to survive in any niche they find by treating the things there as food. When existing bacteria find a niche they can’t exploit, the next generation adapts to it. That self-evolving smart bacteria scenario is rather more feasible, and still results in bacteria that can conquer any ecosystem they find. We would find ourselves unable to fight back and could be wiped out. This isn’t very likely, but it is feasible, could happen by accident or design on our way to transhumanism, and might deserve a place in the top ten threats.

However, grey goo is only one of the NBIC convergence risks we have already imagined (NBIC= Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno). NBIC is a rich seam for doom-seekers. In there you’ll find smart yogurt, smart bacteria, smart viruses, beacons, smart clouds, active skin, direct brain links, zombie viruses, even switching people off. Zombie viruses featured in the top ten TV show too, but they don’t really deserve their own category and more than many other NBIC derivatives. Anyway, that’s just a quick list of deliberate end of world solutions – there will be many more I forgot to include and many I haven’t even thought of yet. Then you have to multiply the list by 3. Any of these could also happen by accident, and any could also happen via unintended consequences of lack of understanding, which is rather different from an accident but just as serious. So basically, deliberate action, accidents and stupidity are three primary routes to the end of the world via technology. So instead of just the grey goo scenario, a far bigger collective threat is NBIC generally and I’d add NBIC collectively into my top ten list, quite high up, maybe 3rd after nuclear war and global virus. AI still deserves to be a separate category of its own, and I’d put it next at 4th.

Another class of technology suitable for abuse is space tech. I once wrote about a solar wind deflector using high atmosphere reflection, and calculated it could melt a city in a few minutes. Under malicious automated control, that is capable of wiping us all out, but it doesn’t justify inclusion in the top ten. One that might is the deliberate deflection of a large asteroid to impact on us. If it makes it in at all, it would be at tenth place. It just isn’t very likely someone would do that.

One I am very tempted to include is drones. Little tiny ones, not the Predators, and not even the ones everyone seems worried about at the moment that can carry 2kg of explosives or Anthrax into the midst of football crowds. Tiny drones are far harder to shoot down, but soon we will have a lot of them around. Size-wise, think of midges or fruit flies. They could be self-organizing into swarms, managed by rogue regimes, terrorist groups, or set to auto, terminator style. They could recharge quickly by solar during short breaks, and restock their payloads from secret supplies that distribute with the swarm. They could be distributed globally using the winds and oceans, so don’t need a plane or missile delivery system that is easily intercepted. Tiny drones can’t carry much, but with nerve gas or viruses, they don’t have to. Defending against such a threat is easy if there is just one, you can swat it. If there is a small cloud of them, you could use a flamethrower. If the sky is full of them and much of the trees and the ground infested, it would be extremely hard to wipe them out. So if they are well designed to cause an extinction level threat, as MAD 2.0 perhaps, then this would be way up in the top tem too, 5th.

Solar storms could wipe out our modern way of life by killing our IT. That itself would kill many people, via riots and fights for the last cans of beans and bottles of water. The most serious solar storms could be even worse. I’ll keep them in my list, at 6th place

Global civil war could become an extinction level event, given human nature. We don’t have to go nuclear to kill a lot of people, and once society degrades to a certain level, well we’ve all watched post-apocalypse movies or played the games. The few left would still fight with each other. I wrote about the Great Western War and how it might result, see

and such a thing could easily spread globally. I’ll give this 7th place.

A large asteroid strike could happen too, or a comet. Ones capable of extinction level events shouldn’t hit for a while, because we think we know all the ones that could do that. So this goes well down the list at 8th.

Alien invasion is entirely possible and could happen at any time. We’ve been sending out radio signals for quite a while so someone out there might have decided to come see whether our place is nicer than theirs and take over. It hasn’t happened yet so it probably won’t, but then it doesn’t have to be very probably to be in the top ten. 9th will do.

High energy physics research has also been suggested as capable of wiping out our entire planet via exotic particle creation, but the smart people at CERN say it isn’t very likely. Actually, I wasn’t all that convinced or reassured and we’ve only just started messing with real physics so there is plenty of time left to increase the odds of problems. I have a spare place at number 10, so there it goes, with a totally guessed probability of physics research causing a problem every 4000 years.

My top ten list for things likely to cause human extinction, or pretty darn close:

  1. Nuclear war
  2. Highly infectious and lethal virus pandemic
  3. NBIC – deliberate, accidental or lack of foresight (includes smart bacteria, zombie viruses, mind control etc)
  4. Artificial Intelligence, including but not limited to the Terminator scenario
  5. Autonomous Micro-Drones
  6. Solar storm
  7. Global civil war
  8. Comet or asteroid strike
  9. Alien Invasion
  10. Physics research

Not finished yet though. My title was how nigh is the end, not just what might cause it. It’s hard to assign probabilities to each one but someone’s got to do it.  So, I’ll make an arbitrarily wet finger guess in a dark room wearing a blindfold with no explanation of my reasoning to reduce arguments, but hey, that’s almost certainly still more accurate than most climate models, and some people actually believe those. I’m feeling particularly cheerful today so I’ll give my most optimistic assessment.

So, with probabilities of occurrence per year:

  1. Nuclear war:  0.5%
  2. Highly infectious and lethal virus pandemic: 0.4%
  3. NBIC – deliberate, accidental or lack of foresight (includes smart bacteria, zombie viruses, mind control etc): 0.35%
  4. Artificial Intelligence, including but not limited to the Terminator scenario: 0.25%
  5. Autonomous Micro-Drones: 0.2%
  6. Solar storm: 0.1%
  7. Global civil war: 0.1%
  8. Comet or asteroid strike 0.05%
  9. Alien Invasion: 0.04%
  10. Physics research: 0.025%

I hope you agree those are all optimistic. There have been several near misses in my lifetime of number 1, so my 0.5% could have been 2% or 3% given the current state of the world. Also, 0.25% per year means you’d only expect such a thing to happen every 4 centuries so it is a very small chance indeed. However, let’s stick with them and add them up. The cumulative probability of the top ten is 2.015%. Lets add another arbitrary 0.185% for all the risks that didn’t make it into the top ten, rounding the total up to a nice neat 2.2% per year.

Some of the ones above aren’t possible quite yet, but others will vary in probability year to year, but I think that won’t change the guess overall much. If we take a 2.2% probability per year, we have an expectation value of 45.5 years for civilization life expectancy from now. Expectation date for human extinction:

2015.5 + 45.5 years= 2061,

Obviously the probability distribution extends from now to eternity, but don’t get too optimistic, because on these figures there currently is only a 15% chance of surviving past this century.

If you can think of good reasons why my figures are far too pessimistic, by all means make your own guesses, but make them honestly, with a fair and reasonable assessment of how the world looks socially, religiously, politically, the quality of our leaders, human nature etc, and then add them up. You might still be surprised how little time we have left.

I’ll revise my original outlook upwards from ‘a bit doomed’.

We’re reasonably doomed.

The future of ISIS

I was going to write about the future of intelligence but I just saw a nice graphic by The Economist on the spread of ISIS:

so I’ll write about them instead.

The main Economist article is

I won’t summarize their article about the current state of affairs; read it yourself. I can add a few comments to highlight the future though.

Surveys on Muslim attitudes to violence consistently show that most Muslims reject violence done in the name of Islam: 65-75%. That is the numeric range that describes the reality of ‘the vast overwhelming majority of peace-loving Muslims’ we see emphasized by politicians and media whenever an Islamic terrorist act occurs, two thirds to three quarters according to when and where the surveys have been done. The last high quality survey in the UK arrived at the figure 68%, comfortably in that range. The other side of the same statistics is that 32% of British Muslims stated some support for violence.

ISIS draws from that quarter or third of Muslims who are comfortable with using violent means to further or defend Islamic interests. Like the IRA in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’, with very similar support statistics, a small number of actual front-line terrorists can rely on about a third of their host population for their support, even though those most of those people will never actually join in the actual violence. The key factors in both situations are that a group feels aggrieved about something, and some people have stepped forward to fight under the banner against that something. For the IRA, it was perceived oppression of the Catholic republican community that wanted to return to a United Ireland. For ISIS, it is initially the perceived war against Islam, even if no-one else has admitted to there being one, amplified by the dream of producing a strict, fully Islamic state that can act as a hub for stricter Islamification of other regions.

Like the IRA, ISIS offers potential glory, a perverted form of status and glamour, excitement, and even a promise of paradise to young people with otherwise few opportunities in life who want to be someone. Picking up a gun and joining jihad compares favorably to some people to standing unemployed on a street corner, surrounded by a nation of people of whom almost all are doing better than you in life.

That lack of hope is abundant and growing, but in the UK at least, it is largely self-inflicted, since immigrant Muslim communities often separate themselves from the rest of their host society and thereby the opportunities otherwise on offer. Muslims who integrate with the rest of society cope happily, but many choose not to integrate and for them, it is a spiral downwards that provides a fertile ground for radicalization. Detecting and subduing radicalization is more difficult if the underlying causes are increasing.

The Middle East has huge problems, and many of them increase hostility to the West as well as between countries in the region. That also will increase. Current income from oil will reduce greatly in the next decades as the world moves away from oil towards shale gas, nuclear and renewables for energy. As income shrinks in an already unstable environment, the number of that third willing to turn to violence will increase. Add to that better communications, growing awareness of western freedoms and lifestyles and potential for new forms of government and those pressures are amplified further.

That will increase the supply for ISIS. it is easy to manipulate attitudes in a community and turn people to violence if an oppressor can be identified and blamed for all the problems, and pretty much the entire West ticks that box if the facts are cherry-picked or omitted, distorted and spun enough in the right way by skilled marketers. ISIS are good marketers.

Extreme violence by a large enough minority can force most peace-loving people into submission. ISIS have shown quite enough barbarity to scare many into compliance, terrifying communities and making them easier to conquer long before their forces’ arrival. Many of the hopeless young people in those newly conquered territories are willing to join in to gain status and rewards for themselves. Many others will join in to avoid punishment for themselves or their families. And so it rolls on.

The West’s approach to holding them back so far has been airstrikes on front lines and drone attacks on leaders. However, ISIS is something of a cloud based leadership. Although they have a somewhat centralized base in Iraq and Syria, they make their appeal to Islamists everywhere, cultivating support and initiating actions even before they enter an area. It is easy enough to kill a few leaders but every extremist preacher everywhere is another potential leader and if there is a steady stream of new recruits, some of those will be good leadership material too.

As the Economist says, ISIS have limited success so far outside of Iraq and Syria, but that could change swiftly if critical mass can be achieved in countries already showing some support. Worldwide, Muslim communities feel a strong disconnect from other cultures, which skilled manipulators can easily turn into a feeling of oppression. Without major modernization from within Islam, and of which there is little sign so far, that disconnect will greatly increase as the rest of the world’s population sees accelerating change technologically, economically, socially, culturally and politically. With so much apparently incompatible with Islamic doctrines as interpreted and presented by many of today’s Islamic leaders, it is hard to see how it could be otherwise from increasing disconnect. The gap between Islam and non-Islam won’t close, it will widen.

ISIS welcomes and encourages that growing gap. It provides much of the increasing pressure needed to convert a discontented young person into an Islamic extremist and potential recruit. It pushes a community closer to the critical mass or resentment and anger they need.

The rest of the world can’t change Islam. No matter how much politicians try to appease Islamists, offer concessions to Muslim communities, or indeed to repeatedly assert that Islamic violence has ‘nothing to do with Islam’, the gap will grow between strict Islamic values and everyone else’s. ISIS will be guaranteed a stream of enthusiastic recruits. Those Muslims to whom stricter interpretations of their religion appeal are diluted throughout Muslim populations, they are not separate groups that live apart, that can easily be identified and addressed with outreach campaigns or surveillance. Only by reducing advocacy of strict Islamic values can the gap stop widening and begin to close. That obviously can only be done by Muslim communities themselves. Any attempt to do so by those outside of Islam would simply add to perceived oppression and act as justification towards extremism. Furthermore, that reduction of advocacy of extremist interpretations of Islam would have to be global. If it persists anywhere, then that region will act as a source of violence and a draw to wannabe terrorists.

So like most other observers, it seems obvious to me that the solution to ISIS or any other extremist Islamic groups yet to emerge has to come from within Islam. Muslims will eventually have to adapt to the 21st century. They will have to modernize. That won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly, but ISIS and its variants will thrive and multiply until that happens.

The future of cleaning

I’ve been thinking a bit about cleaning for various customers over the last few years. I won’t bother this time with the various self-cleaning fabrics, the fancy new ultrasonic bubble washing machines, or ultraviolet sterilization for hospitals, even though those are all very important areas.  I won’t even focus on using your old sonic toothbrush heads in warm water with a little detergent to clean the trickier areas of your porcelain collectibles, though that does work much better than I thought it would.

I will instead introduce a new idea for the age of internet of things.

When you put your clothes into a future washing machine, it will also debug, back up, update and run all the antivirus and other security routines to sanitize the IoT stuff in them.

You might also have a box with thew same functions that you can put your portable devices or other things that can’t be washed.

The trouble with internet of things, the new name for the extremely old idea of chips in everything, is that you can put chips in everything, and there is always some reason for doing so, even if it’s only for marking it for ownership purposes. Mostly there are numerous other reasons so you might even find many chips or functions running on a single object. You can’t even keep up with all the usernames and passwords and operating system updates for the few devices you already own. Having hundreds or thousands of them will be impossible if there isn’t an easy way of electronically sanitizing them and updating them. Some can be maintained via the cloud, and you’ll have some apps for looking after some subgroups of them. But some of those devices might well be in parts of your home where the signals don’t penetrate easily. Some will only be used rarely. Some will use batteries that run down and get replaced. Others will be out of date for other reasons. Having a single central device that you can use to process them will be useful.

The washing machine will likely be networked anyway for various functions such as maintenance, energy negotiations and program downloads for special garments. It makes sense to add electronic processing for the garments too. They will be in the machine quite a long time so download speed shouldn’t be a problem, and each part of the garment comes close to a transmitter or sensor each time it is spun around.

A simple box is easy to understand and easy to use too. It might need ports to plug into but more likely wireless or optical connections would be used. The box could electromagnetically shield the device from other interference or security infiltration during processing to make sure it comes out clean and safe and malware free as well as fully updated. A common box means only having to program your preferences once too.

There would still be some devices that can’t be processed either in a box or in a washing machine. Examples such as smart paints or smart light bulbs or smart fuses would all be easier to process using networked connections, and they may well be. Some might prefer a slightly more individual approach, so pointing a mobile device at them would single them out from others in the vicinity. This sort of approach would also allow easier interrogation of the current state, diagnostics or inspection.

Whatever way internet of things goes, cleaning will take on a new and important dimension. We already do it as routine PC maintenance but removing malware and updating software will soon become a part of our whole house cleaning routine.

The future of beetles

Onto B then.

One of the first ‘facts’ I ever learned about nature was that there were a million species of beetle. In the Google age, we know that ‘scientists estimate there are between 4 and 8 million’. Well, still lots then.

Technology lets us control them. Beetles provide a nice platform to glue electronics onto so they tend to fall victim to cybernetics experiments. The important factor is that beetles come with a lot of built-in capability that is difficult or expensive to build using current technology. If they can be guided remotely by over-riding their own impulses or even misleading their sensors, then they can be used to take sensors into places that are otherwise hard to penetrate. This could be for finding trapped people after an earthquake, or getting a dab of nerve gas onto a president. The former certainly tends to be the favored official purpose, but on the other hand, the fashionable word in technology circles this year is ‘nefarious’. I’ve read it more in the last year than the previous 50 years, albeit I hadn’t learned to read for some of those. It’s a good word. Perhaps I just have a mad scientist brain, but almost all of the uses I can think of for remote-controlled beetles are nefarious.

The first properly publicized experiment was 2009, though I suspect there were many unofficial experiments before then:

There are assorted YouTube videos such as

A more recent experiment:

Big beetles make it easier to do experiments since they can carry up to 20% of body weight as payload, and it is obviously easier to find and connect to things on a bigger insect, but obviously once the techniques are well-developed and miniaturization has integrated things down to single chip with low power consumption, we should expect great things.

For example, a cloud of redundant smart dust would make it easier to connect to various parts of a beetle just by getting it to take flight in the cloud. Bits of dust would stick to it and self-organisation principles and local positioning can then be used to arrange and identify it all nicely to enable control. This would allow large numbers of beetles to be processed and hijacked, ideal for mad scientists to be more time efficient. Some dust could be designed to burrow into the beetle to connect to inner parts, or into the brain, which obviously would please the mad scientists even more. Again, local positioning systems would be advantageous.

Then it gets more fun. A beetle has its own sensors, but signals from those could be enhanced or tweaked via cloud-based AI so that it can become a super-beetle. Beetles traditionally don’t have very large brains, so they can be added to remotely too. That doesn’t have to be using AI either. As we can also connect to other animals now, and some of those animals might have very useful instincts or skills, then why not connect a rat brain into the beetle? It would make a good team for exploring. The beetle can do the aerial maneuvers and the rat can control it once it lands, and we all know how good rats are at learning mazes. Our mad scientist friend might then swap over the management system to another creature with a more vindictive streak for the final assault and nerve gas delivery.

So, Coleoptera Nefarius then. That’s the cool new beetle on the block. And its nicer but underemployed twin Coleoptera Benignus I suppose.


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.

Technology 2040: Technotopia denied by human nature

This is a reblog of the Business Weekly piece I wrote for their 25th anniversary.

It’s essentially a very compact overview of the enormous scope for technology progress, followed by a reality check as we start filtering that potential through very imperfect human nature and systems.

25 years is a long time in technology, a little less than a third of a lifetime. For the first third, you’re stuck having to live with primitive technology. Then in the middle third it gets a lot better. Then for the last third, you’re mainly trying to keep up and understand it, still using the stuff you learned in the middle third.

The technology we are using today is pretty much along the lines of what we expected in 1990, 25 years ago. Only a few details are different. We don’t have 2Gb/s per second to the home yet and AI is certainly taking its time to reach human level intelligence, let alone consciousness, but apart from that, we’re still on course. Technology is extremely predictable. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is just how few surprises there have been.

The next 25 years might be just as predictable. We already know some of the highlights for the coming years – virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing, advanced AI and conscious computers, graphene based materials, widespread Internet of Things, connections to the nervous system and the brain, more use of biometrics, active contact lenses and digital jewellery, use of the skin as an IT platform, smart materials, and that’s just IT – there will be similarly big developments in every other field too. All of these will develop much further than the primitive hints we see today, and will form much of the technology foundation for everyday life in 2040.

For me the most exciting trend will be the convergence of man and machine, as our nervous system becomes just another IT domain, our brains get enhanced by external IT and better biotech is enabled via nanotechnology, allowing IT to be incorporated into drugs and their delivery systems as well as diagnostic tools. This early stage transhumanism will occur in parallel with enhanced genetic manipulation, development of sophisticated exoskeletons and smart drugs, and highlights another major trend, which is that technology will increasingly feature in ethical debates. That will become a big issue. Sometimes the debates will be about morality, and religious battles will result. Sometimes different parts of the population or different countries will take opposing views and cultural or political battles will result. Trading one group’s interests and rights against another’s will not be easy. Tensions between left and right wing views may well become even higher than they already are today. One man’s security is another man’s oppression.

There will certainly be many fantastic benefits from improving technology. We’ll live longer, healthier lives and the steady economic growth from improving technology will make the vast majority of people financially comfortable (2.5% real growth sustained for 25 years would increase the economy by 85%). But it won’t be paradise. All those conflicts over whether we should or shouldn’t use technology in particular ways will guarantee frequent demonstrations. Misuses of tech by criminals, terrorists or ethically challenged companies will severely erode the effects of benefits. There will still be a mix of good and bad. We’ll have fixed some problems and created some new ones.

The technology change is exciting in many ways, but for me, the greatest significance is that towards the end of the next 25 years, we will reach the end of the industrial revolution and enter a new age. The industrial revolution lasted hundreds of years, during which engineers harnessed scientific breakthroughs and their own ingenuity to advance technology. Once we create AI smarter than humans, the dependence on human science and ingenuity ends. Humans begin to lose both understanding and control. Thereafter, we will only be passengers. At first, we’ll be paying passengers in a taxi, deciding the direction of travel or destination, but it won’t be long before the forces of singularity replace that taxi service with AIs deciding for themselves which routes to offer us and running many more for their own culture, on which we may not be invited. That won’t happen overnight, but it will happen quickly. By 2040, that trend may already be unstoppable.

Meanwhile, technology used by humans will demonstrate the diversity and consequences of human nature, for good and bad. We will have some choice of how to use technology, and a certain amount of individual freedom, but the big decisions will be made by sheer population numbers and statistics. Terrorists, nutters and pressure groups will harness asymmetry and vulnerabilities to cause mayhem. Tribal differences and conflicts between demographic, religious, political and other ideological groups will ensure that advancing technology will be used to increase the power of social conflict. Authorities will want to enforce and maintain control and security, so drones, biometrics, advanced sensor miniaturisation and networking will extend and magnify surveillance and greater restrictions will be imposed, while freedom and privacy will evaporate. State oppression is sadly as likely an outcome of advancing technology as any utopian dream. Increasing automation will force a redesign of capitalism. Transhumanism will begin. People will demand more control over their own and their children’s genetics, extra features for their brains and nervous systems. To prevent rebellion, authorities will have little choice but to permit leisure use of smart drugs, virtual escapism, a re-scoping of consciousness. Human nature itself will be put up for redesign.

We may not like this restricted, filtered, politically managed potential offered by future technology. It offers utopia, but only in a theoretical way. Human nature ensures that utopia will not be the actual result. That in turn means that we will need strong and wise leadership, stronger and wiser than we have seen of late to get the best without also getting the worst.

The next 25 years will be arguably the most important in human history. It will be the time when people will have to decide whether we want to live together in prosperity, nurturing and mutual respect, or to use technology to fight, oppress and exploit one another, with the inevitable restrictions and controls that would cause. Sadly, the fine engineering and scientist minds that have got us this far will gradually be taken out of that decision process.

Estimating potential UK Islamist terrorism: IRA x 13

I wrote last June about the potential level for Islamist terrorism in the UK, where I used a comparison with the Northern Ireland troubles. It is a useful comparison because thanks to various polls and surveys, we know the ratio of actual active terrorist numbers there to the size of the supporter community.

The majority of people there didn’t support the violence, but quite a lot did, about 30% of the community. From the nationalist 245,000, the 30% (75,000) who supported violence resulted in only around 300 front line IRA ‘terrorists’ and another 450 in ‘support roles’ at any one time. The terrorist population churned, with people leaving and joining the IRA throughout, but around 1% of 30% of that 245,000 were IRA members at any one time.

We’ve recently had another survey on UK Muslims conducted for the BBC that included attitudes to violence. You can read the figures from the survey here:

The figures they found are a little worse than the estimates I used last year, and we have slightly higher population estimates too, so it is time to do an update. The 30% support for violence attributed to the Northern Ireland nationalist community is very similar to the 32% found for the UK Muslim community. Perhaps 30% violence support is human nature rather than peculiar to a particular community. Perhaps all that is needed is a common grievance.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, 68% of UK Muslims claimed that they didn’t think violence was justified if someone ‘publishes images of the Prophet Mohammed’. The survey didn’t specify what kind of images of the Prophet were to be hypothetically published, or even that they were insulting, it just said ‘images’. That 68% gives us a first actual figure for what is often referred to as ‘the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims in Britain’. 32% either said they supported violence or wouldn’t say.

(The survey also did not ask the non-Muslim population whether they would support violence in particular circumstances, and I haven’t personally found the people I know in Great Britain to be more civilized than those I knew in Northern Ireland. If the same 30% applies when a common grievance exists, then at least we can take some comfort that we are all the same when we are angry over something.)

Some other surveys around the world in the last few years have confirmed that only around 30% of Muslims support violence against those who offend Islam. Just like in Northern Ireland, almost all of those supporters would not get directly involved in violence themselves, but would simply approve of it when it happens.

Let’s translate that into an estimate of potential Islamist terrorism. There are no accurate figures for the UK Muslim population, but it is likely now to be around 3 million. Around 32% of that is around a million; there is no point aiming for higher precision than that since the data just doesn’t exist. So around a million UK Muslims would state some support for violence. From that million, only a tiny number would be potential terrorists. The IRA drew its 750 members from a violence supporter base of 75,000, so about one percent of supporters of violence were prepared to be IRA members and only 40% of those joined the equivalent of ‘active service units’, i.e. the ones that plant bombs or shoot people.

Another similarity to Northern Ireland is that the survey found that 45% of UK Muslims felt that prejudice against them made it difficult to live here, and in Northern Ireland, 45% of nationalists supported the political motives of the IRA even if only 30% condoned its violence, so the level of grievance against the rest of the population seems similar. Given that similarity and that the 32% violence support level is also similar, it is only a small leap of logic to apply the same 1% to terrorist group recruitment might also apply. Taking 1% of 1 million suggests that if Islamist violence were to achieve critical mass, a steady 10,000 UK Muslims might eventually belong to Islamist terrorist groups and 0.4% or 4000 of those in front line roles. By comparison, the IRA at its peak had 750, with 300 on the front line.

So based on this latest BBC survey, if Islamists are allowed to get a grip, the number of Islamist terrorists in the UK could be about 13 times as numerous as the IRA at the height of ‘The Troubles’. There is a further comparison to be had of an ISIS-style terrorist v an IRA-style terrorist but that is too subjective to quantify, except to note that the IRA at least used to give warnings of most of their bombs.

That is only one side of the potential conflict of course, and the figures for far right opposition groups suggest an anti-Islamist terrorist response that might not be much smaller. Around 1.25 million support far right groups, and I would guess that more than 30% of those would support violence and more would be willing to get directly involved, so with a little hand-waving the problem looks symmetrical, just as it was in Northern Ireland.

If the potential level of violence is 13 times worse than the height of the Troubles, it is clearly very important that Islamists are not allowed to get sufficient traction or we will have a large problem. We should also be conscious that violence in one region might spread to others and this could extend to a European problem. On a positive note, if our leaders and security forces do their jobs well, we may see no significant problem at all.