In Times of Absolute Control

Article written by Eduardo Marson Ferreira, president of Fundação Ezute, for Revista Força Aérea (Air Force Magazine – December\2017)

São José dos Campos, Christmas Eve in the year 2027. When the population prepares for family festivities, all the city lights are turned off, the traffic lights flash on yellow and the cellphone signal stations are muted. Suddenly, the TVs transmit the communication of a terrorist group until then unknown requesting a ransom in virtual currency to release the systems. The authorities, astonished, wonder how all this could have happened.

Ten years prior, we were in full “boom” in the Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in Brazil and the stars were the cities’ public lighting systems. After all, with regard to the environment and to the taxpayer, the old halogen lights had to give way to the more efficient and economical LED.

However, the complex of public lighting is perhaps one of the highest-capillarity systems in an urban agglomeration, arriving at the doors of the majority of citizens and covering almost the whole of the urban territory of a municipality. It has an energy transmission grid attached with cables going in and out in all directions, usually near the place where the fiber optic network passes. Nothing more logical, therefore, than using this system as the basis for transforming cities into Smart Cities (Intelligent Cities).

The concept of Intelligent Cities designs urban projects that utilize intensively information technology (sensors, transducers, transmitters, networks, etc.), associated with the capacity to analyze a large amount of data, focused on physical and social intervention in the planning of urban space, making it sustainable and improving the quality of life of the population.

, it essentially depends on the massive use of objects with a great capacity to generate and transmit information (“Internet of Things”, or IoT), “Big Data” and a system of management and urban planning based on algorithms aimed at guiding decision-making. With the world’s urban population growth and technological advancement more rapid and disruptive than ever experienced before, there is nothing more natural than using a part of this technology in favor of humanity itself.

After all, on replacing bulbs with LEDs, São José took the opportunity to “install” in the system high-resolution cameras and various sensors that send images and data to a large command and control center, which processes and generates data aimed at improving the management of the city. In addition to simply enabling the police to capture live images of crimes, the system began to recognize suspicious behavior in the main traffic routes, like a motorcycle stationed beside the driver of a vehicle in congestion or the same car passing by the same point several times. The buses now operate with British precision, optimized by algorithms of supply and demand for public transport constructed from tons of gigabytes of data captured by sensors and analyzed by powerful software. The number of arrests of criminals has increased by the implementation of facial recognition software in the surveillance system, interconnected with the police and the judicial database.

This is only to illustrate the labyrinth of interconnected and interdependent systems that were generated from a simple PPP of public lighting! I am sure that many people remember the movie “Eagle Eye”, where a couple of youths are sent around the world on a suicide mission by an uncontrolled computer of the American defense system, which handles cellphone calls, public transportation systems, traffic lights, digital billboards, social networks, intelligent cranes and even immigration management systems at the airport. Imagine if in that distant year of 2008 of the release of the film, the self-driving car (replete with sensors, processors and interconnectivities) had already been the reality that it is today…

Obviously this is not about discussing the First Law of Isaac Asimov, where the robot is programmed to never attack the human being, as in “Eagle Eye”, “Hal 9000” and “2001”. Rather, it is about drawing attention to an important dimension of the adoption of “intelligence” and the learning capacity of the systems, equivalent to the adoption of robust cybersecurity, a concern that needs to be considered of even more relevance by the industry in services of defense and security.

The “smarter” the cities are, the more susceptible they are to the scenario at the beginning of this article. And cities will increasingly become the privileged battleground of Asymmetrical Warfare, also in its new dimension: cybernetics.

As a parallel, the so-called classic battlegrounds will also become increasingly “smart”! Combatants on foot or aboard planes and ships are true command and control centers, which are loaded with sensors and processors of all kinds, forming huge networks through the ability  to communicate by various means. This is what today is called Network Centric Warfare (NCW).

Industry and services need to combine efforts with the government in implementing a strong governance of cybersecurity, in the equipment, programs and algorithms of interpretation and generation of scenarios and solutions. Otherwise, perhaps it would be best to buy an old petrol generator for Christmas in 2027…

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