Introducing Future Crimes

Marc Goodman tells Big Think that in the future "the virtual agents of good and evil will do battle in cyberspace--making this a very interesting field to be in!"

"Should Virtual Suicide Be Outlawed?" "Hacking the Human Heart" These two provocative headlines are from recent posts by Marc Goodman, the author of Future Crimes, a new blog on Big Think. Goodman is a global thinker, writer and consultant focused on the disruptive impact of advancing technologies on security, business and international affairs.
Big Think recently interviewed Goodman about what readers can expect to learn from reading Future Crimes. Among other things, Goodman tells Big Think that in the future "the virtual agents of good and evil will do battle in cyberspace--making this a very interesting field to be in!"
Big Think: What is the big idea behind Future Crimes?

Marc Goodman: Future Crimes is dedicated to studying and discussing the effects of scientific and technological progress on crime, policing and the criminal justice system. Criminals have always been quick to adopt new technologies, with the police often trailing behind. The unprecedented rapid rate of scientific progress is creating new opportunities for transnational criminal organizations to exploit these technological advancements for unintended nefarious purposes.

BT: Why have you taken this unique focus?

MG: While many are focused on the common cyber crimes of today, I have been taking a futurist’s approach that looks beyond today’s cyber crimes in anticipation of the next generations of criminality. Specifically, I'm working on matters involving the security, crime and terrorist implications of virtual worlds, augmented/hybrid realities, robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, synthetic biology and human genomics.
As a variety of new technologies come on board in our society, they will amplify and expand the potential security threats we face.  Nobody engineered security into the first iterations of the Internet because there were only a few nodes belonging to trusted universities and government entities online. That unfortunate, though understandable, lack of forethought led to the lack of an integrated and architected security posture as part of the infrastructure itself has led to the many crime and security challenges we face today.  Future Crimes exists to closely examine future technologies and consider their security implications now--before it is too late to do so.
BT: When you consider the next generation of security threats, what
concerns you the most?

MG: Biological threats. Biohacking or DIY (Do It Yourself Biology) are about to explode. For the first time in human history, we are beginning to understand how biology works. Decoding the human genome was just the first step, neurology will be next. There are significant groups of hackers out there "hacking" biology every day. While much of this work is going on for good and the betterment of humanity, that is not universally true. Bill Gates himself said if he were a kid again today, he would be hacking bio technology instead of information technology. The burgeoning fields of synthetic biology, genomics and nano tech may provide significant opportunities for criminals and terrorists to pursue a whole new bag of weaponry previously unavailable to them.

BT: Is there a basic rule of thumb that private citizens can follow to
protect their privacy today? (Or, to put it another way, do you think
the public at large is aware of the full extent of the threats to
their privacy that exist today?)

MG:  I strongly believe that the public is significantly unaware of the privacy and security threats they face.  While George Orwell worried about government as "Big Brother," the fact of the matter is the threats to privacy, at least in the Western world, come mostly from non-government entities.  It is amazing how many people will gladly give up their phone book contacts, their location, their entire social network, family pictures and purchase history merely because somebody offers them the latest cool app. The big problem with users giving this information is that it often leaks out.  
When Sony was recently attacked, the perpetrators obtained the personal details and sometimes even financial data, of over 100 million people. Trusting users gave the information to Sony. Sony, for reasons still under investigation, had their customers' information taken. Thus when one shares personal information, the information is apt to be used by others in unintended ways.  
To your original question, the rule of thumb private citizens should follow is that any information they provide, even so-called private information, will likely, at some point in the future, end up in the hands of a third party, authorized or not.  

BT: In your view, who are the most technologically-advanced criminals out there?

MG:  There is a significant amount of criminal "talent" out there. There are highly technologically-advanced criminals in many countries around the world. Though people might want to focus on one region over another, the fact of the matter is that organized crime is just that: organized. That means it functions just like a business and profits in the digital underground are at an all-time high. There is significant cooperation among criminal gangs online, regardless of their location. Thus an Asian crime group would readily collaborate with one from Eastern Europe or North America if there is a profit to be made for all parties.  

BT: With technology increasing exponentially, and humans unable to
keep up, to what extent will we have to rely on A.I. to protect and

MG:  I think increasingly Artificial Intelligence will play a very large role in crime, policing and security. Artificial agents will scour the net looking for criminal activity. Though it sounds very "Minority Report," the fact of the matter is there is an emerging field of law enforcement known as "Predictive Policing." Using a variety of AI techniques, machine learning and vast mounds of data, it is actually becoming possible to determine which criminals are most likely to offend and even those that are most likely to become victims of crime, such as homicide, themselves. Of course, AI is not only for the good guys. We have already seen attempts by criminal elements to script and automate criminality. Botnets and FastFlux technologies are perfect early examples of where we are heading. In the future, the virtual agents of good and evil will do battle in cyberspace--making this a very interesting field to be in!

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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