Je suis Charlie

I am an optimist. The reason why I love ng Connect and love working in the ICT industry is that I believe that beyond money, we are driven by an urge to make the world a better place. Even those that aspire to be billionaires or simply make it to Shark Tank, base their hopes on technologies, products and concepts that solve peoples’ problems – including, for example, cleaning barbecues using a robot or 3D–printing chocolates.

I will always remember CES 2015. Not because I saw dazzling innovations or the explosion of new markets, but because this is where I was when the terrible attack on Charlie Hebdo shook Paris, France, and the world, leaving twelve people dead.

As a person, I cannot begin to fathom what decision making can lead a man to commit such atrocities. The fact human beings can be so vulnerable to evil really, truly scares me. And I have not felt that way since … the killing of 150 children in a school in Pakistan just a few weeks ago. It feels like we are back to the darkest hours of History. So much for progress, so much for the efforts of the thousands of exhibitors and visitors attending this trade show.

Now this is an unusual post for the ng Connect blog, where I normally discuss the life of the Program or innovative concepts and ideas. As a French national, I feel compelled to join my voice to the chorus of people who denounced the barbary and reaffirmed values of liberty and humanity. But it also turns out that the Program has been and continues to be involved in public safety, so we should be looking for new means and ways to deal with these and other types of new threats.

As a matter of fact, when the ng Connect team was discussing the contents of the 2015 edition of CES, one of us remarked that there was little related to security. There was plenty of talk and demos of drones, connected devices, wearables, smart homes, smart cities, connected vehicles. But what about security? What if all these designs to make our lives better would make us vulnerable? It is nice to have remotely operable locks and other safety features in our houses and vehicles, but how do we prevent attackers from hacking, taking control, shutting down our cars, or utilities?

Something kept nagging at me while I listened to this conversation. I have lived in Paris and driven its streets. They are narrow, crowded, anything but straight, and interrupted with numerous intersections. How then could the terrorists manage to leave the city and evade the police and its arsenal of surveillance, communication and intervention?

How convenient would it have been for the police to remotely shut down the successive cars the killers were driving? As cars get more and more connected with access to operational functions, wouldn’t it make sense to grant law enforcement some emergency access and the ability to shut down the car? This does not seem out of reach at all, in fact it would be like a “legal car intercept” to echo the call intercept feature in telecom networks.

I can already hear concerns and outrage such a system would raise. But aren’t utility companies cutting service to consumers who do not pay the bill? People violating the law should be arrested and if this can be done peacefully, it’s even better. This would save lives, prevent collateral damage and victims of too many high-speed chases, and in the Paris case, would have saved the deployment of some 88,000 law enforcement people to screen a wide area around Paris.

There may have been (relatively) little to show on security in general and public safety in particular at CES, but I surely left the trade show with plenty of related thoughts. Ideas such as real-time identification documents, 3D printed money or connected cash transit vehicles now become realistic based on enabling technologies such as 3D printing and flexible displays.

My other takeaway is that terrorism of any kind will never quell creativity and the free flow of ideas. The world’s ours to explore and to share. This is just the beginning.


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