Look around you. Our realities are intimately intertwined with automated intelligence. There’s no escaping it. Almost everything we touch has a computer inside, or has been somehow influenced by computer software. In many instances we cannot even see these hidden control systems.
In the dreamlike city of San Francisco, we ride the bus running a computerised schedule. We tag on to the system using an RFID pass. We take computerised trains to work, the human operator’s role has been reduced to pressing “Go”. The traffic we sit in each and every day is optimized, managed by software (over a wireless mesh net).
I sit writing these words in a San Francisco cafe, staring into a computer display. Dozens of hidden software programs keep my cursor moving, my wireless internet active.
Many younger intellectuals are calling these “background” software influences daemons. A daemon is formally known as a “computer program that runs as a background process” (according to Wikipedia, the bible of our youth). Younger generations are broadening the term, defining a daemon as anything around us that is influenced by software.
“We are surrounded by daemons, we live by them,” an anonymous MIT student tells me. More and more each day we find our life, our love, our destiny being determined by a computer algorithm. Red pill or blue pill? Swipe right or swipe left?
These computerised systems extend beyond our fingertips into the environment around us. They define who we are.
Networked computers power our world, from manufacturing facilities to the devices around our wrists. Connecting these intelligent devices to a distant server vastly expands their functionality. Many control systems aren’t controlled locally at all, but are controlled by physical hardware that can be hundreds of miles away.
These long distance connections have become so popular that us modern humans have dubbed the concept “cloud computing”. Connecting a device to “the cloud” is a much more efficient way to process large amounts of data and compare statistics. Such computing is teaching humanity a new way to observe and learn, to substantial benefit.
These networked devices with enhanced “cloud” connectivity are now being dubbed “Internet of Things” devices, which I made an argument about in a previous article.
From powering refrigerators, to maintaining energy infrastructure, these computers have become crucial in daily life.
But there is one huge problem
Our digital infrastructure is aging. A vast majority of these Intelligent control systems are literally running Windows XP or worse. The advanced 3D printers I mentioned in the last article are running turn of the century Windows NT.
This aging infrastructure opens up vast security vulnerabilities that hackers (and governments) are taking advantage of.
An invisible cyber war is waging right now. Elite hacking groups funded with billions of dollars are waging war to protect, control, and pown the computer systems we depend on every day.
We are by no means secure. Each year news stories arise of ATMs being hacked, companies being breached, and more recently the United States IRS being completely compromised.
A classic example of an early cyber weapon is Stuxnet (c. 2009), funded by the CIA and good old American tax dollars. The software was aimed to disable Iranian uranium enrichment facilities.
The easiest way to acquire a nuclear weapon is to use high precision centrifuges to separate out U-235 from natural uranium. Many other countries use a similar technique for their weapons of mass destruction.
To great dismay of the Iranians, malicious software Stuxnet (among others) was socially engineered into the Iranian facilities, causing the Uranium enrichment machines to self destruct. Even an air-gapped systems (meaning it is not connected to an external network) are infiltrated. In most cases the humans working around an air-gapped system are easier to “hack” than the computer systems themselves.
This shows that even tightly controlled, government computer systems are subject to digital attack. The events of global cyberware in the past five years have proven that the computers powering our global infrastructure are at risk.
Upgrading security means upgrading software, hardware, encryption and education involving billions of computer control systems around the globe. This is where ARA comes to play.
Because of its infinite configurability, ARA will be perfect for controlling factories, infrastructure, and general control systems. The world around us may soon run on ARA – that is if Android can prove to be secure. Today there are simply too many known security vulnerabilities in the public variants of Android. This is quickly changing for the better, as the roots of Android can be highly secure.
If the coming releases of Android can prove to be highly secure, ARA will begin to replace computer control systems around the globe.
The ARA development forums are already swarming with module concepts that will be perfect for industrial control systems. Dozens of sensors, thermal imagers, and radiation detectors have been designed.
An ARA computer can be easily configured to create a decentralized sensor control network. Connected by USB C or wireless, hundreds of devices will talk to each other powering gigantic industrial systems. Multiple redundancies make disabling the system difficult, even in worst case scenarios.
As we witness ARA coming to market, we are going to completely rethink what a smartphone is. What we thought of as a telephone just a few months ago may be powering nuclear reactors and other critical infrastructure in the near future.
The concept above utilises ARA as its primary control system for a nuclear reactor. An exploration on making nuclear more friendly, 15 ARA PCs control pumps, power generation, and temperature control. If an ARA device is destroyed, other devices will take over.
ARA cases will soon be developed, a simple ruggedized box with power and data cables coming out. An enclosure will keep water and dust away from the ARA computer, even shielding the device from unwanted electromagnetic interference.
Ara will quickly evolve from a smartphone to something else. We must look around at our reality and consider what is truly holding everything together. It is up to the engineers, designers, and artists to imagine what’s next.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. Introduction.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. The Free Internet and The Rise of Social Computing.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. The convergence of 3D printing and computing.
- Project ARA: A Perspective. Controlling the Future Around Us.