17 August, 2016 - 15:24 By Dr Ian Pearson of Futurizon

Drones security must be absolutely unbreakable

Drones are developing fast and many can fly themselves to any location within range.

Amazon recently received permission for UK trials for drone-based home deliveries. Of course it is technically feasible to send a drone with a package to land on someone’s lawn, but it isn’t necessarily desirable, for three main reasons.

Firstly, drones make noise and because they are up in the air, with many homes in line of sight, a lot of people will hear them. If delivery drones become common, then the peace and quiet many of us enjoy in our back gardens will vanish.

They will also produce yet another distraction for drivers and pedestrians, and if they fly too close to builders, that distraction could become a direct safety risk.

Secondly, hackers have shown skill in hijacking existing drones, flying their own near to the target drone so their own signal drowns out that from the proper controller, enabling taking over control.

Hopefully Amazon will build very strong security into their drones to prevent such takeovers, but until that is proven beyond doubt, we must assume that a skilled terrorist group could potentially take a drone over, attach their own device to it and fly it to their own target.

ISIS are already known to be considering using drones to attack crowds in football stadiums. Any direct threat from a bomb, blinding laser or scattering white powder would be amplified by crushing risks as people stampede to escape. So the terrorist abuse risk is high and security must be absolutely unbreakable.

A third problem is that wild animals may be scared by them and that might interfere with breeding patterns, and certainly many pet cats or dogs would either be scared by them or try to chase them. Propellers and sensitive noses or tails do not mix.

Kids also may well be tempted to intercept them just for fun. If the drones are known to carry cameras, they will simply wear masks and hoodies to avoid identification. They might attach their own packages or steal the other, or might attach a package for the return trip. Activists might also do so for various reasons, and even hold drones hostage for ransoms.

So yes, it will be feasible technically to deliver to a wide open back garden or to a company delivery bay, but it comes at a high price. Even so, only a few premises will be suited to delivery.

Most homes don’t have large gardens and many that do have trees or large bushes that would make them unsuitable. Homes in high density urban areas are very unlikely to qualify.

Amazon are also in the front line of robotics, AI and voice interaction of course, with a view to taking a large slice of the IoT and home control, while increasing their dominance in shopping and other net services and presumably home robotics too, in due course.

They have a good hand, but so do Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Facebook. This vigorous and healthy competition will accelerate development across the whole of IT, including newer areas such as augmented and virtual reality, which particularly need new kinds of sensors, relative positioning systems and better voice interaction backed up by high quality AI that can do very complex things from just simple instructions, just as a smart human executive assistant might.

This all sounds wonderful, but there is never a free lunch. We will inevitably sacrifice privacy and security and some people will become more socially isolated as the need to interact with other people reduces. Increasing convergence of our home and office IT with every aspect of our lives will yield greater and greater control to a small number of players.

Concentrating more wealth and power in a few global players that are proven adept at avoiding taxes, while reducing the need for human employees across swathes of industry and commerce is a direct economic and social risk too, and it is already obvious that politicians in most countries are slipping far behind the curve.

Rapid technological development in the absence of competent government will inevitably cause social and economic problems that might be avoidable if people and leaders were made more aware of the potential in both the short and long term.

The companies that stand to benefit so greatly have a moral duty to inform leaders and make those potential consequences properly understood, but we have seen little evidence that they want to do so, with some at least seeming instead to prefer to take as much advantage as they can from regulatory lag. This is dangerous, but while the law allows it, we can expect them to continue taking full advantage of that lag.

Google notoriously excuse their own tax avoidance by pointing out that it is government’s responsibility to set proper taxes and make proper laws and they will obey them, but while that is true, they know very well that such things take time, so it is a thin cover for their greed and exploitation.

The question we should all be asking is just how much we should entrust every larger control of our lives, our data, our society and our economy to companies that have proven very willing to exploit us to the full for as long as they can get away with it.

With political turbulence all around, we cannot also afford to be dependent on companies we can’t trust. The future is full of wonderful potential. Who will we trust to make it happen?









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