Cyborg Security & Embeddables


Perhaps surprisingly, we as humans haven’t gone down the road of embedding much technology in ourselves yet. Where we do, it tends to be for medical reasons, with many of these applications being passive technologies like hip replacements, stents, traction pins, etc.

Artificial hearts and pacemakers are good examples of embedded active technologies, and these are certainly becoming more sophisticated as they can be monitored and controlled externally. And this has just started to raise people’s fears about the security of Medtech; could someone hack the implant and control the device independently?  Can people read my health data and violate my privacy?

A few high profile research cases have embedded other non-medical objects in humans. Like pets with RFID identity tags implanted, so too have humans tried this out.  Professor Kevin Warwick’s team at Reading University investigated this, with Kevin having an RFID chip embedded under his skin that allowed him to open his laboratory door without the need of a separate keycard. He and his team did a lot more since.

Well over a decade ago a pioneering nightclub in Barcelona allowed partygoers to pay for their drinks with an embedded microchip in their arm.  But there haven’t been many cases of this approach being adopted.  You don’t see Londoners using embedded Oyster Cards to travel the Tube.  You don’t see people with Contactless credit cards embedded in their fingertip to pay for their M&S goods. You don’t see skiers with their ski pass embedded in a limb.

Indeed, wearables or WearableTech are the current fashion.  People have Fitbits and GoPros strapped to their body parts; Google Glass was a relatively short lived accessory which may come round again as some kind of contact lens, and the mobile phone and smart watches are the ubiquitous tech about our bodies.

Bodyhacking or biohacking is the term given to hobby cyborgs that are experimenting at the in vivo technology frontier. People have embedded magnets in their fingertips and gained a ‘sixth sense’ in which they can feel the vibrations from a nearby electromagnetic field. The aforementioned Kevin Warwick has had microneedle chip arrays embedded in his arm to provide an interface with his nervous system. And Neil Harbisson embedded an antenna-like sensor through his skull and into his brain to help him overcome his colourblindness and ‘hear’ colours.

And this really is just the beginning because the next (un?!)natural step must surely be to take all our wearable tech and turn it into embeddable tech. The advantages will be many; the body could ‘feed’ the device with energy (heat if nothing else) and obviate the need for a battery. The nervous system could be used to interface with our visual cortex and dispense with the LCD display. The same approach could connect to the cochlear nerve and we’d hear the phone ring or the iTunes track without the need of a loud speaker or headphones; and no one else would be disturbed either.

Get this embedded interface right with our existing nervous system, and there will be many more ways to exploit sensors to help us navigate and communicate. We’ll have embedded GPS, embedded Wifi, embedded 4G, and our bodies will join the Internet of Things; think Internet of Beings.

I wrote an earlier piece about Cerebral Security highlighting that all we know about the issues of cyber security will multiply once we start directly interfacing with our brain.  But if our entire body starts to accommodate embeddables, then we’re going to need to think about Cyborg Security.

People’s appendages could start to house very valuable devices that generate even more valuable data.  Its not just the ability to pay with a finger, or know where someone is because the chip is now within their arm, but it is also about health and status information being generated.  Your internal systems will be streaming data like the telemetry from a rocket ship, and people around you may try to intercept it.  If they knew you were hungry, they could sell you a snack.  Feeling thirsty; can I sell you a drink?  Feeling tired? then you might be a target worth abducting because you wouldn’t have the energy to defend yourself.

Given this you’ll also need to invest in other cyborg accessories; radar and infrared devices that can detect stalkers sneaking up behind you, bionic muscle-boosting devices that pack a heavier punch for improved defence, and exoskeletons that enable you to flee quicker.

As you can see, this will be disruptive technology that will make many of today’s must-have devices obsolete and open up vast new markets where we’ll feel compelled to spend money and keep an even closer eye on our security and privacy.  Perhaps someone will create a third eye embeddable just for that task.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder


Cerebral Security & Big Big Data


Not a day goes by without news of a compromised website, a leakage of passwords, a loss of credit-card data, or a concern that someone has taken control of an online account. Cyber security and the associated issue of personal privacy are a scourge of modern times brought on by us humans relying on the connected world to live our lives; whether that’s to manage our finances, do the shopping, communicate with friends, or grow a business. Pretty much everything we do, and even more so for the younger generation, involves digital data that can be leaked, eaves-dropped, harvested, or sold.

I suspect, however, things may be about to get a whole lot worse over the next decade! At the moment our brains are off-limits; they host our private memories, thoughts and intentions without others being able to interfere. The only clues are what we display with our emotions and choose to disseminate with our words and actions. And within each of our brains is a lot of data; this is big big data, typically a memory of about a million gigabytes each!

How different the world will be when we can interface directly with our brain, controlling things telepathically by merely thinking of the action. As with all innovations, there will be plenty of benefits; people with disabilities and illness will gain more control over their lives and daily tasks could be completed hands-free and efficiently from a distance. There is plenty of research going on at the moment to this end; already it is possible to control external objects with brainwaves, its just that that the range of commands is rather limited and requires a fair bit of training and concentration to do repeatedly and accurately.

This will change, and one day it will be possible to download memories as both stills (like photographs) and sequences (like videos). It will be possible to back-up our personal memory bank so that learned facts, figures and insights are not forgotten over time, and then eventually it will be possible to upload data to augment your memory with new catalogues of information.

Soon we’ll be into the realms of cerebral security. People around you may try to access your brain to see what you are really thinking about them, the police and security services will want to monitor your past actions and future intentions, criminals will want to know things with which to blackmail you or second-guess you, and terrorists may try to gain control of you so that you can perform actions on their behalf. Suddenly, the brain will be susceptible to new forms of viruses; hybrids of the biological and the computational.

Somehow we’ll have to rush to develop the equivalent of passwords, firewalls and anti-virus scans for our brain. There will be a need for memory back-up and data recovery (read personality recovery). This will be a whole new and exciting industry bridging the gap between biochemistry, neurology and the IT industry.

The difference between a neurone and a silicon transistor will be greyed, the keyboard and mouse will be no more, and things like smart phones, monitors and televisions will be replaced by direct interfaces to the retinal receptors of our brains.  You will be both a source and a sink for direct data transfer. Google will collect street views from your own eyes, Amazon will ship on one-blink orders, and Facebook will become Brainbook as your timeline is thought-after-thought-after thought…

Deep breath.

On Friday 9th October 2015 we discuss cyber security and big data at the Malvern Festival of Innovation. Will we be considering cerebral security and big big data at the same Festival in October 2025? Probably, and there will be no need for you to attend; we’ll just beam it all straight to you whilst you are sleeping and extract a quick user survey to see what you thought of it all afterwards!

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

Cyber Security: Can we innovate fast enough?


Some sectors seem to develop faster than others. The computer industry has always been a fast-track innovator fuelled by miniaturisation, a hunger for speed, and a creative community that has brought us the Internet, phone apps, tablets and now the promise of the Internet of Things.  How many other industries have delivered so much and consistently managed to lower the price for a given level of performance in the way the IT industry has?

But in parallel we have had to deal with a darker side of innovation: viruses, hackers, phishers and fraud. Our reliance on all things silcon from running our business to running our social lives is now under threat from others who can defraud our business and take over our lives.

The question is, can we keep up? The first challenge is that the industry needs to constantly develop new defences against cyber attacks, new algorithms to encrypt passwords, and new processes to plug vulnerabilities.  Then we, as the users, have to keep up too. We now have numerous accounts, numerous profiles, and a proliferation of data in cloud services and on devices. All of these are protected by our passwords that ideally need to be growing in complexity, changed frequently, and different for each service we use.  And as this trend continues, we start to feel the fatigue of staying abreast of it all and wondering if we can continue to function in this fast-paced world.

Interestingly, as a species, we have probably been here before. I’m sure the Stone Age man wondered how he could live in a world as bronze tools emerged and accelerated the pace of change in all walks of life he was accustomed to; hunting, gathering, farming, and crafting. And at the same time he no doubt feared the bronze weapons being unleashed on his world and wondered if he could develop defences against them as they became sharper, longer, heavier and more accurate.

More recently we had the industrial revolution in which people feared the speed and capability of the motorcar, train, plane and robotic production line. As these new inventions allowed us to travel at high speeds across land and water, so too they enabled nations to engage in warfare and espionage. As a race, though, we pulled through again.

Cyber does offer its own new challenges however.  In a way, it allows numerous layers of reality (or virtual reality) to be created, so things become very much more abstract. It is harder for our brains to rationalise abstract things like data. Is it valuable? how does it really affect our privacy and those around us? is it dangerous? and so forth.

The good news is that so far it looks like we can innovate fast enough. Our systems haven’t melted down yet, and there are plenty of new services and interesting new defences emerging each day.  We’ll hear about some of these at the Festival this year: the Internet of Things, cyber security, Big Data, assurance of complex systems, new approaches to passwords and encryption, etc. Assuming of course we’re not out-paced in the next few weeks and everything starts to unravel…

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder