The Future of Crime: How Technology Will Force Us to Stay One Step Ahead of the Smarter Criminal


I started watching a really interesting show recently called Almost Human starring Karl Urban and Michael Ealy. The show is about how 30 years into the future, crime has progressed at such an accelerated rate that there are no longer enough police officers to monitor it. As a solution, they create android police officers instead that are capable of human emotion. They assign each human officer with an android officer and together they carry out their policing duties in the modern world. Because of this new advanced police system however, the crimes have become advanced as well. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill robbery or kidnapping…this is intellectual cyber crime only made possible in a world ruled by technology.

Recently, I saw an episode that made me think a lot about technological possibilities. In this world, the richest citizens have ‘SMART Homes’. These are homes with fully operating security systems complete with holographic windows, security cameras, temperature and air regulators, and security features that could save your life. For example, in case of a fire, the house begins to warn the inhabitants to exit, and upon exit seals the house shut and sucks out all the oxygen, thus killing the fire- great right? But what happens if this system is hacked? What if the SMART Home system calculates that there is a fire and the inhabitants have safely exited but cannot detect that they are still inside? It seals the house and sucks out the oxygen…the inhabitants then suffocate and die. This is exactly what happened to a wealthy citizen when their system was hacked by a vengeful criminal.

My point is…are we really so far away from something like this being a possibility? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: Newton’s third law of motion. How does Newton relate to this? Because every time a brilliant mind invents a new technology that can benefit the world, there will be an equally brilliant criminal waiting to subvert it and use it to the detriment of society. This show got me really interested in the future of crime and what it will look like. I did some research and came across a very interesting individual named Marc Goodman on TED talks who had a lot to say on the topic. He brought up several compelling arguments that closely resemble the potential plotline of an Almost Human episode. There is no stopping the acceleration of technological growth…therefore it is up to all of us to stay one step ahead.


All the Possibilities…


Currently working as a consultant and author focused on the effect of disruptive advances of technology on security, Marc Goodman worked in the cybercrime units of Interpol, the United Nations, NATO, LAPD and the U.S Government as an officer, undercover investigator and a counter-terrorism strategist in over 70 countries. In this TED talk, Marc talks about why he is worried about where crime is heading. Technology that a criminal could use was once limited to a pager or (non smart) cell phone. Now criminals have started building their own mobile phone networks and operations centres. They track targets through a quick Google search which can reveal everything about a person and monitor their effects on live social media.

Given the new circumstances, there has been a shift in crime which allows criminals to commit more of it and more often. From robbing a person, to robbing a hundred people on a train, to robbing 100 million people’s online accounts, the internet has allowed greater access to a greater amount of people to be exploited. The more connected we are, the more vulnerable we are. Not only that, new technology is creating new avenues for criminal activity.Image

Goodman’s website is dedicated to discussing the effects of the scientific and technological progress of crime and the criminal justice system. The goal of the group is not to focus on the current trends of cybercrime, but to look beyond today’s crime to anticipate the next wave of criminal activity including robotic, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and biotechnology related crimes.



3D Printers gone wild


The world watched in shock and awe as scientists began using 3D printer technology to create functioning human organs. Since it began, there has been a wave of articles featuring how scientists and researchers at Harvard, Princeton, The University of Sydney and others have used the 3D printer to create a beating heart, a functioning ear and how the first 3D printed liver is expected in 2014. Along with the bio printing are all the fun experiments such as the first 3D printed Lego house and the first 3D printed bicycle. It is overall evident that the 3D printer has become revolutionary and the world has yet to see its fullest potential.

However it doesn’t take very long for this technology to be manipulated by a criminal. As Marc Goodman woefully brings up in his talk, you can also use a 3D printer to make a gun. During a raid in Manchester, officers discover several components of a firearm including the trigger mechanism and magazine alongside a high end 3D printer. In essence, there is a new underground black market in the works which allows criminals to create their own weapons in the comfort of their own home. The weapons are functional and made of plastic allowing them to avoid x-ray detection and making it easier to smuggle. Not only that, the cost of 3D printers has also drastically reduced and can now be sold for a thousand dollars or less.

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities as journalist and Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project Steven Kotler discusses how 3D printing will revolutionize crime. He states that the website Have Blue reported that a blogger printed a .22 pistol and fired 200 rounds to prove that it worked. Also a chemist at Glasgow University also used a 3D printer to make a universal chemistry set. The idea was to use it to make prescription medication at home after downloading a recipe…but what’s stopping someone from making some homemade meth or ecstasy? What happens when these illicit trades harness the full power of technology?


The bionic hack attack…will you see it coming?


Marc Goodman talks about how now a defibrillator can be connected wirelessly to the internet in order for a medical profession to give a shock to a patient in need. However if the patient is not in need and receives a shock…this is a problem. Barnaby Jack of IOActive, a security vendor known for analyzing medical equipment, showed in a demonstration how an 830 volt shock could be administered through a pacemaker due to poor programming of wireless transmitters used to instruct these implanted parts. Another issue with the devices is that they also contain personal data about patients such as name and personal doctor.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan agency that works for U.S Congress, suggests that the FDA who approved these devices really dropped the ball when it comes to security. They recommended that the FDA make security risks a mandate in the approval process.


What happens now?


According to Goodman, there might be a way to thwart these criminals. We live is such an open world that criminals can use all our information against us…but what if we again use this principle against them by opening up security to the public? Currently there is a project where Mexican citizens are crowd mapping the activities of local drug cartels in an attempt to convict them at great risk to their own safety. The OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) currently runs a similar operation where they monitor what dictators and terrorist are doing with public funds around the world.

Aside from this, there are also new waves of policing technology being brought to the justice system to contribute to the anticipation of techno- threats. Various police forces are in the process of testing Google Glass, wearable cameras and tracking devices for front line police officers. One of the major implementations of the future are body cameras that officers will wear that will include facial recognition programs and can monitor regular offenders (Robocop anyone?).

The Santa Cruz Police Department in California is also developing a police precognition program to predict crime…and yes it was inspired by The Minority Report. Using crime analysts and an algorithm based on anthropology and criminology, police can predict potential crimes using the same “aftershock” theory of an earthquake and applying it to crime (“aftercrime”) within 500 square feet of the original crime. The FBI states that the program “puts law enforcement in the right place at the right time”. Other departments that are experimenting with the program include, Washington, South Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, and Illinois.

The future of crime is upon us and as Marc Goodman puts it, “We are at the dawn of a technological arms race”, therefore it is up to all of us to stay one step ahead.



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