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Technology could enable, and defend against, electronic hitmen

Feb. 17, 2016

A new generation of smart weapons is changing how future wars may be fought, with adversaries potentially enlisting smart appliances in their battles against each other. But while new technologies can be used to develop terrifying offensive weapons, they can be adapted for defense as well.

David Ignatius at The Washington Post describes The Munich Security Conference as “…an annual catalogue of horrors. But the most ominous discussion this past weekend wasn’t about Islamic State terrorism but a new generation of weapons—such as killer robots and malignly programmed ‘smart’ appliances that could be deployed in future conflicts.” He adds that we are in the dawn of an era of conflict when all wars will have a cyberwar component and “…new weapons will combine radical advances in hardware, software, and even biology.”

Ignatius reports that Espen Barth Eide, the former foreign minister of Norway, imagined an electronic hitman incorporating GPS guidance, facial-recognition technology, and artificial intelligence.

Even our connected appliances could be conscripted to attack us. In testimony before the U.S. Congress February 9, James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said, “’Smart’ devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Ignatius notes that in response to Clapper’s testimony, the Iranian news agency said, “The head of the U.S. intelligence community has acknowledged for the first time that American spy agencies might use a new generation of smart household devices to increase their surveillance capabilities.”

The next step, Ignatius reports, could be bioweapons. He quotes Eide as saying, “We may look back on the good old days when all we had to worry about was nuclear weapons. That sounds like a joke, until you think about what’s ahead.”

Meanwhile at AIA Vision Online, Winn Hardin addresses military and security imaging applications. “In the salad days of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the U.S. military industrial complex was an excellent market for technology companies…. But after the Berlin wall fell, military budgets followed suit. Then 9-11 reminded the world that peace can be fleeting, and vulnerability exists. Fast forward to a decade or more of electronic manufacturing development, and the machine-vision industry found itself again armed with the right tech, at the right cost to entice military and security customers.”

Hardin adds, “Developed countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia have led the way when it comes to leveraging video for public safety and security applications. According to security experts, the U.S. is following suit when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure.”

He cites Hervé Copin, CEO of Xenics USA Inc., as saying, “Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was a trigger around the world for better monitoring and security systems…and not just for human surveillance, but for asset surveillance, too.”

Perhaps such systems can be on the lookout for the electronic hitman imagined by Eide.

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