Securing the Extended Human: Script & Slide Deck

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Five years ago I gave a brief talk at a security conference at the Centre for Security at Lancaster University. It was early in my speaking career and I confess I was a little nervous. I don’t think it was my greatest performance. But I’m still a huge believer in the content I shared that day.As I start to prepare a new talk on future security for an event in Paris in a couple of weeks’ time, I went back to this slide deck and script and figured it would be a good time to share it.

Below you will find my original script, and a link to the slide deck in PDF format (this was before I started to write slides in HTML using the Impress framework).

The presentation starts with a reading from the 2005 novel by Charles Stross, Accelerando. This remains one of my favourite pieces of science fiction and I would strongly urge you to read the  – now free – eBook, available for download here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/accelerando/accelerando-intro.html

Download the slide deck in PDF format here.

Remember, you can get these links at the same time as the Patreon community, and discuss them, over on the Discord channel:

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Securing the Extended Human

“Ah can take it,” Jack mumbles, as a torrent of images crashes down on his eyeballs and jackhammers its way in through his ears like the superego of a disembodied giant.  

Which is actually what he’s stolen: The glasses and waist pouch he grabbed from the tourist are stuffed with enough hardware to run the entire Internet, circa the turn of the millennium. They’ve got bandwidth coming out the wazoo, distributed engines running a bazillion inscrutable search tasks, and a whole slew of high-level agents that collectively form a large chunk of the society of mind that is their owner’s personality.  

Their owner is a posthuman genius loci of the net, an agalmic entrepreneur turned policy wonk, specializing in the politics of AI emancipation. When he was in the biz he was the kind of guy who catalysed value wherever he went, leaving money trees growing in his footprints. Now he’s the kind of political backroom hitter who builds coalitions where nobody else could see common ground. And Jack has stolen his memories. There are microcams built into the frame of the glasses, pickups in the earpieces; everything is spooled into the holographic cache in the belt pack, before being distributed for remote storage. At four months per terabyte, memory storage is cheap. What makes this bunch so unusual is that their owner – Manfred – has cross-indexed them with his agents. Mind uploading may not be a practical technology yet, but Manfred has made an end run on it already.

In a very real sense, the glasses are Manfred, regardless of the identity of the soft machine with its eyeballs behind the lenses. And it is a very puzzled Manfred who picks himself up and, with a curious vacancy in his head – except for a hesitant request for information about accessories for Russian army boots – dusts himself off and heads for his meeting on the other side of town.

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This is an excerpt from Accelerando by Charles Stross, for my money one of the finest pieces of science fiction writing and certainly one of the most coherent visions of a technology-driven future ever written.

It highlights a challenge that we will be facing in the near future. How we secure the aspects of our humanity that are increasingly being handed off to, and enhanced by, machines.

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We are already bionic. I have a terrible memory and a hopeless sense of direction. My smartphone and the cloud behind it ensure that I don’t forget my wife’s birthday and I can find the shop where I want to buy her present. Because of the constant access to these capabilities I no longer try to remember things I can store, and I no longer worry about finding directions or reading a map. These pieces of technology are functionally part of my make-up and while I am not incapable without them I am certainly impaired.

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As the lines between technology and humanity are further blurred with the next generation of wearables, this issue will become more acute. Much has been made of the privacy and performance issues surrounding always-on, camera equipped human beings. But what about the challenges that the removal of this technology will present. Challenges that will concern not just individuals but employers, law enforcers, health professionals and the state.

I want to suggest just a few examples today.

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“I can’t come in today. My customer service co-processor has been hacked.”

Imagine a salesman equipped with a real-time deal calculator that enabled him to juggle margins in order to close. Imagine a call centre full of enhanced humans guided through customer service enquiries not by a script on the screen but a dynamic set of suggestions whispered in their ears. Imagine a surgeon guided by enhanced sight and overlaid MRI data.

These scenarios present a number of issues. Who supplies the hardware? Is it a BYOD environment or will corporates compete to offer the best upgrades? If they use learning software and the software learns alongside the human, who owns that data? Is it part of the human’s skills? Do they take it with them to their next job, list it on their CVs?

What happens when it fails? This could be the sick note of the future.

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“A man today was sentenced to life imprisonment for the memory-murder of pensioner”

My wife has an incredible memory. Not just for the birthdays and anniversaries but for the memories created on those occasions. I have a terrible memory. For all these things. I write letters to my children every few months as a way of storing some memories. I am reliant on our photo collection to fill in the blanks.

If someone deleted all these things I would be distraught.

Imagine I had been wearing a life logging camera for half my life and capturing thoughts on an audio diary. These things were with me constantly, archived, searchable and retrievable in microseconds like an extension of my mind.

Now imagine someone deleted those records. That’s more of a crime than simple vandalism. That’s excising part of someone’s humanity. How would the law and society treat that situation?

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“MPs today introduced emergency legislation to place high profile court cases under a complete media blackout. The move follows a spate of collapsed trials costing the taxpayer millions.”

I was up at the BBC last week talking about Peaches Geldof’s Twitter gaffe. She is under investigation for contempt of court after she named the mothers of the children involved in the Ian Watkins trial.

In order to commit this crime Peaches Geldof had to read a foreign website, copy the names into a few tweets and hit send. The whole process probably took less than a couple of minutes but there were multiple opportunities to stop and think ‘Hang on, would my editor at the Telegraph let me submit something like this?’

Imagine if the names had been thrown up by a dynamic search agent, auto-composed into a tweet and sent with the raise of an eyebrow or a word. How much damage could she do then?

When judges, jurors, solicitors, witnesses and defendants are used to being permanently connected, we are going to need some serious revisions to the law.

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These are just a few of the many issues that we will face as a society and as a security community in the coming years.

It’s now roughly ten years since the advent of mainstream social media in its current form – Friendster, LinkedIn and MySpace, then Facebook, Twitter and the myriad other networks now gaining popularity. We are still working out the etiquette of social media and it will be ten years before the law catches up.

This year technology came one step closer to melting into the background, changing from being visible, discrete devices to being an invisible piece of the fabric of reality. It is going to take at least a decade for society to get its head around this, and likewise a decade beyond that for the law to catch up.

Maybe at conferences like this we can begin to tackle these challenges ahead of time.

This post forms part of my Futurism series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Futurism page.

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Tom Cheesewright