Q&A with Mark Stevenson, keynote speaker at the upcoming RANT Conference

Q&A with Mark Stevenson, keynote speaker at the upcoming RANT Conference

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Without giving too much away, what will you be talking about at the RANT Conference on June 11th?
I’m going to be talking about the mega trends that will affect the world and what will be required of the security industry in order to respond to them.

These mega trends are part of the Big Shift (more details on that here: http://www.rantconference.co.uk/seminar/opening-keynote/), but how is that different from the digital revolution?
That was just a trailer; I like to say it is like the cocktail sausage before dinner. Everything that happened with digital – the democratisation of power and established players losing control of the means of production and distribution – will come to the physical world with programmable biology and programmable matter through 3D printing and nanotechnology.

So imagine a world where your mobile phone can give you a blood test and you can download the right drug based on that blood test and then print it at home. That’s what we’ll be seeing within the next generation or two.

That obviously has massive ethical and security implications. For example there are people using 3D printers for guns. Is there a way to allow people to download a car part, for example, but not an AK47?

That leads to the question of who regulates it…
Even whether it can be regulated; my suspicion is that it cannot. Therefore what happens to the security industry? It will have to become a ‘crowd industry’. Rather than specific people telling us what to do we will have to come together as society and work out how to secure ourselves.

So what will you be telling the Conference about how the role of these information security workers will change?
There are very difficult questions coming but they are probably the best people to answer them because they have the expertise and the knowledge and they understand more about securing distributed resources than most people.

So the question is, what is the security framework that works for individuals in a radically democratised world, where, for example, I may want to exchange my genome data with a physician in South Africa? I don’t know the answer yet, nobody does, but I think they are the right people to think about it.

How far will these changes go? What will the world look like in 100 years?
I think anyone who would attempt to tell you what the world will be like in 100 years time is either intellectually vain or bonkers. If you look at the history of futurology what you’ll see is that the predictions were often an expression of prejudice or a wish list of the person who was asked. We’re quite good at seeing first order effects: If you invented the internet it’s not a huge leap to predict email. But do you then see the invention of social media? Or its role in the Arab Spring? No.

Because of what is happening with technology all bets are off; pretty much anything you can imagine is possible in the next 100 years.

So if it’s less about predicting, what is the role of a futurologist?
It’s about getting people to ask the right question. For example I was talking to a pharmaceutical company about the prospect of printing drugs and open source drug development and what that would mean legislatively. They were then asking questions that went beyond margins, questions they hadn’t been asking half an hour before. That’s the point; they go from asking questions about profit margins on existing drugs to asking what would happen if every doctor’s surgery in the world could download and print its own open source drugs.

Douglas Adams said there are three types of technology: tech invented before you were born, which you don’t think of as technology; technology that is invented between you being born and turning 35, which is very exciting; and technology invented after you turn 35, which is completely pointless and makes you angry.

If you look at a lot of organisations the ones who decide the strategy are in the last group and most of their employees and customers are in the second, so there is a massive mismatch there.

A lot of the people you’ll be talking to at the conference may be in that last group as well.
I can guarantee that at the end of my talks people do not ask dull questions! People at the conference should be getting hold of 3D printers and hanging out with bio-hackers and so on. They should be asking, ‘what is my role going to be in this?’ and ‘how do we secure these new technologies while making them accessible?’

Hear Mark’s talk on The Big Shift at the RANT Conference on 11th June…click here to register

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