4 January 2018

Marc Goodman comes from law enforcement, is the founder of the Future Crimes Institute, and is the author of the following book:

This book is about the dangers of pacemakers, electricity grids, mobile phones, air transportation systems, voting systems, self-driving cars, Google, Facebook, the Heartbleed bug, baby cams, bitcoins, ransomware, crowdfunding, the Internet of Things, and you name it.

The author gave a TED Talk and please have a look at what Goodman says about pacemakers connected to the Internet some 7 minutes and 45 seconds into the talk. The author also has a much longer appearance in this on-line interview and, again, see what he says about pacemakers some 26 minutes into the interview and about self-driving cars 56 minutes and 42 seconds into the interview. But perhaps the best on-line appearance of Marc Goodman is this 17 minute interview with Larry King. Please do have a look, especially if you are a computer scientist. I am a computer scientist and have expressed  some worries about the future, connected world (of pacemakers and self-driving cars), but I didn't realize the situation was so bad.

All this to also provide some coverage of the technological news of the week in my country: very soon Belgian citizens will have on-line and accessbile medical files. A possible implication, then, is that my medical dossier will soon be made available by hackers for you and the rest of the world to see. And, as Marc Goodman writes on page 199-201 in his book, stealing medical information is the lesser of two evils: in the USA, on-line medical dossiers have also been changed, both accidentally and intentionally. Not to mention more worrisome scenarios, such as this one:

[I]f your blood type is listed as O positive and a hacker, enemy, or adversary switches it in the hospital's databse to A negative before you go into surgery, the operation will likely result in death. [page 201]

There are plenty of security experts on this planet and fortunately some concerns are starting to be raised and heard. But, and again in Goodman's own words from page 247 in his book:

By and large, the tools to make our technological world secure and trustworthy are simply not at hand.

I'm not sure there are more than a handful of academics in computer science who share this opinion. How come? I interview many computer scientists (and I only publish some of these interviews due to time & money contraints). Many of my interviewees are not too worried and some claim that we can make the Internet (sufficiently) secure, at least in principle. It was just implemented the wrong way from the beginning. "Self-driving cars, if implemented correctly, will make our world a better place." Sure, but notice the "if" in the previous sentence, not to mention the word "correctly." What does "correct" actually mean with regard to a sociotechnical system? (Courtesy of C. Floyd for phrasing the question like this in a conversation with me.) Is it possible, in principle, to take the human (driver) out of the loop and to replace it with software? In my opinion, the history of computing is a history of automation, not a history of 100% automation (in most cases). So, perhaps the future, too, will be more about the complementarity between humans and machines, rather than completely substituting one for the other.

Of course, and as Goodman frequently emphasises himself, the Internet has much to offer. I, for one, don't plan to stop using email during my life, but I don't know about connected pacemakers and highly automated cars. Sometimes less is more: does less connectivity result in more human safety? Read Goodman's book for one well-researched answer to this question and many related questions.