We know we all have two identities, one physical and one digital. A lot of buzz is about protecting personal data. But how technology is helping to improve our personal security? Is it effective? The promise of a high level of safety seems to be apparently broken, especially after the dramatic sequence of terrorist attacks in Paris and Bruxelles. They told us smart surveillance would have protected us and our streets, but it’s not happening. Civilized societies put police in charge of actively safeguarding citizens, but the cuts to public budgets reduced its effectiveness. So is the old adagio in the title “if you want something done, do it yourself” the only solution? There are several trends in the personal security field and I expect the will be an evolution of attitudes and behaviors about security which will go in parallel with the evolution of cutting edge technologies, like wearables, drones, artificial intelligence and robots.
Expansion of adoption of personal security devices. It’s happening today. It all started with the simplicity of communication allowed by modern smartphones. You select a trip or a destination and check in when you arrive. Great for women taking a taxi at night for example, who want to let their fiancé know they arrived safely home. Then with GPS, timers, new sensors and ad-hoc apps and software, smartphones and wearables have now a popular role in personal security. Many startups begun to develop ad-hoc devices and enhance them with sophisticated algorithms that can identify potentially dangerous situations. Wearables and smartwatches have a special feature that distinguish them from phones: they usually touch the skin or a body part, so they can collect vital information that can be used for safety purposes. They know where you are and probably also how you feel.
There are many examples and I decided to suggest the post of Home Security Resources which gives a reasonable panorama of what’s on the market. The existing looks and features are incredible. Panic buttons, cameras sending videos in case of aggression, instant police calling, GPS tracking, even calculation of sun rays hitting your skin… are embedded in devices looking like jewelry or high tech gadgets. Sometimes they come under the form of stand-alone objects, sometimes the value is in a long distance control service. They can protect both people and their belongings and obviously there are solutions for every pocket. The personal security devices market will continue to grow.
Innovative technologies will continue to be tested. Some will survive, some will fail. Researchers are exploring everyday new solutions and some are intriguing. Let me open with a few ideas that are not going to see the light, but are worth a few lines.
Personal pocket drones flying a few feet above your head: I am skeptical mainly because the batteries will never have enough autonomy to both make it fly and run the software that has to scan the status of the surroundings and communicate about the safety of the protected person. And what happens when you enter a building? They fly into your jacket? And what happens in a stormy or foggy day? Personal robots walking aside the protected person are another nice idea. We are still struggling to have humanoid robots that are able to walk, avoid obstacles and climb differences in altitude (merely stairs). I cannot imagine dedicating any space to a robot guard. I can’t see it running when you are missing your bus. I think the so called Sniffers, artificial noses designed to automatically sense, watch, search and identify individuals with critical information, weapons or bombs are a promising technology, but seems quite expensive.
The most promising personal security technology in the short term is biometric authentication. There are many features of our body that make us unique. Fingerprints, face traits, eyes and retina, veins, genomic and even the form of our rear are scanned and let us access a place or operate equipment. This Kaspersky’s post titled “10 Biometric Security Codes of the Future” is a few years old, but gives a very clear snapshot of the technology being developed around us. That’s honestly good news: computers have advanced enormously in the last 20 years, but we still use passwords exactly the same way we did when internet was not existing. Passwords are the weakest link in every information security system, while biometric authentication technologies promise a more secure alternative. We have to honest and recognize that a biometric feature can be duplicated, so it’s not 100% safe, but due to the cost of the hardware and quality of the software is more difficult to cheat.
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Humans will teach, and then will be replaced. This is because artificial intelligence and video surveillance will meet. Essentially humans will work in parallel with algorithms scanning the environment and teach the system to spot suspicious or unusual behaviors. Slowly the machine will learn to understand what is normal and what is not. This interaction between operator and technology results in a “teachable” system. The main difference with humans is the volume of information that the machine can analyze in real time, virtually all the images at the same time. Humans are not “programmed” to analyze a screen; we know that when people are faced with multiple items at one time, attention spans decrease and anyway, after 20 minutes of concentration on one activity, human’s performance begins to fall.
A similar logic will apply to patrol robots. These robots won’t necessarily have humanoid features, but they will be able to move on a terrain and identify unusual and potentially harmful activities. They will scout parking lots, office corridors, airports check-in areas and potentially open streets at a lower cost than a person. All these concepts fall under the name of “smart watchers” and when nobody will be in sight… look at the sky, a new generation of super-sensitive satellites will be mass scanning the surroundings and check your movements.
The security solution will become personalized and adapted to the local environment and life style. That’s the logic conclusion of our conversation on personal security. There won’t be a single technology that will prevail on all available. Life style, local environment (and spending availabilities) will determine a mix of solutions. Let me do a quick example: I live in my home town and do not travel very often, security to me means that my kids are safe when moving in my neighborhood. No need to subscribe to a security service based on satellite control. When I travel in safe countries, security means protection on my belongings and for my person, a wearable with an alarm button in case of aggression and a GPS tracker would be enough. If somebody regularly travels in war areas (the other extreme), a substantial increase in security practices (including formal check in and check out) and devices (personal cameras and voice contact) is recommended. If you have access to restricted areas, you could think about having a chip implanted under your skin, in addition to biometric authentication. One of the main drivers of the personal security profile will be whether you work for a company or you’re on your own. Companies want to protect the personal safety of their employees, tangible properties, cash, securities, trade secrets and other private information. And obviously can afford to spend more money than a common person. What is quite clear is it will be incautious to leave to chance your personal security when affordable technology is available to everybody.
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