Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Future Crimes by Marc Goodman

Reading this book I started off a little disconcerted, went through scared, and ended on downright terrified. For Future Crimes basically does what it says on the tin: outlines the direction crime will take in the future as it embraces our increasingly interconnected world, robotics, 3D printing and even advances in biology.

A confession of sorts. A long time ago I read for an MSc in Criminology at the LSE in London. It was the late 1990’s and criminologists everywhere were grappling with an odd conundrum: crime was falling, across the board, all over the Western World. Giuliani claimed it was his zero-tolerance policing, perhaps, problem is it wasn’t just New York. In cities across America and Europe, no matter the policing policies, to a lesser or greater extent crime was falling. Read any paper and that debate is still occurring. Crime statistics still tell a tale of inexplicable declines and no one appears to know why. Is it women’s greater access to abortion as the authors of Freakonomics once contended (greater levels of abortion = less young men, less young men = less crime)? Is it the decrease in levels of lead in the atmosphere due to the introduction of lead-free gasoline? Is it that society has just become more civilised? Well perhaps we now have an answer: Crime just moved online.

Future Crimes starts off with what to a greater or lesser extent we already know: identity theft, credit card details being swiped from online stores and retailers, hacking. What new can be said about that? Well apparently a lot. For example, he deals with the issue of botnets, swarms of computers taken over by criminals for some nefarious purpose, all without the owners’ knowledge. Apart from the irritation of your computer slowing down, do we really care if someone launches a denial of service attack at some multinational? Well think again. Did you know that a botnet might be used to host child pornography? Yup, that’s right, thousands, maybe millions of computer owners around the world might be inadvertently and unknowingly aiding and abetting the abuse of children.

And it goes downhill from here. As Marc Goodman projects further and further into the future the scenarios become more and more bleak. Banks are bringing in biometrics to protect your accounts? Well the gangsters have already figured out how to lift your fingerprints from a glass of water. An American libertarian has already invented an untraceable and fully working 3D automatic rifle; drone and tracking software is increasingly being wielded by stalkers; medical implants have been hacked so that it’s only a matter of time before someone is murdered by having their pacemaker switched off.

Moving further still into the future we have viruses to match a victim’s DNA profile so that they’re the only people to die in the room, while bio-cartels might grow opium in wheat, corn, or even print THC or Oxycodone on a bio-printer. Some might see all this as hyperbole, but the author is careful and meticulous in grounding his predictions in hard science. For example he points to advances scientists are making in personalising medicine, crafting anti-cancer drugs honed to an individual tumour, so why not a virus honed to an individual DNA profile?

The end of the book contains the author’s suggestions on how society might harness the undoubted good all this technology might bring, whilst negating the harm. He also has a section on what you and I, as average computer users can do to protect ourselves. But after all the warnings and dire predictions that preceded it, it just all seems so futile.

I would recommend people read this book and would unhesitatingly award it five out of five stars, but really that’s more to do with my penchant for scaring the bejeezus out of myself than any real expectation that reading it can make a difference.

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