Sunday, December 4, 2016

Zero Crime Cities: You can run - but you can't hide.

By Andrew Atkin

I would like to highlight some major technological movements that will almost certainly, in good time, give us a new age in terms of safety and security within our cities (excluding what goes on behind closed doors, in the domestic world).

The advantages of appropriately employed technology will be particularity advantageous for cities that are seriously dangerous, and suffering from rampant corruption.

1. A cashless society.

With nearly everyone owning a smartphone, and with smartphones rapidly dropping in price, there is no reason why we can't have a cashless society as soon a given government enforces it.

Imagine: You open up a simple app on your iPhone, take a photo of the QR code displayed on your friends (or other) phone, and then from there you type in the cash to pay and then hit the enter button. You approve the payment with the thumbscan on your phone for biometric security. It can be as simple as that.

The result with a payment system like this, is that there is a record of where the transaction was made (via GPS) and who made it, when, and how much. It can all be recorded on a central database for every transaction that anyone makes, or can make.

The effect of these records, other than transaction and accounting efficiency, is it makes operating a black market virtually impossible (unless it's barter). If the police have a concern and want to look for possible criminality, then with a search warrant they can review people's transaction records on the database and identify any suspect dealings, and quickly.

2. Internet-based biometric security doors.

Imagine the equivalent of a simple, stripped back iPhone being a door lock.

So, to access any location you use a biometric lock that allows you to keep a record of who, where and when there was access to a given location. Often it will not function as an actual lock - just a biometric log in.

It could be one system. A private body could set up the security system, and sell the iPhone type door locks/logins to people wanting that form of security for their premises. People (especially contractors) could establish an account to use the system, and in turn apply for access to any given location.

The result would be extremely tight yet practical and fussless security. Forming temporary clearances, and blocking people, is dead easy. Also it creates a location trail for citizens which makes both guilt and innocence easy to prove for if there are problems, just like with the cashless money system.

Imagine the fuss it could remove in airports as well, if governments world-over embraced a single international system like this. No more passports - just your thumb scan.

This can be built as a totally private venture. Frankly, I don't know why this isn't being done already today. My prediction is that someone will produce this service soon. It makes sense and it should be very profitable.

3. Instant response police drones.

Imagine a grid of drones positioned over a city, with the drones positioned about 1 kilometer apart from each other. This would make no point in the city more than 700 meters from a police drone.
Now, if someone's security alert goes off, that drone could automatically transport itself to the location of concern, with an initial reaction time of less than a second. The instant the alarm goes off - the drone is moving. If the drone travels at say 80km/h on average, then it will be at the most distant (700m) point in about 30 seconds.

A drone can't detain people of course, but it can certainly track and follow them until a policeman can get to the scene. Hence the deterrence value is huge. You can run - but not hide.

You might need a couple of hundred drones for totally comprehensive coverage in a medium sized city. But if they cost say $10,000 each, then that's only about $2m. Peanuts.

4. Driverless cars.

Driverless cars will also work with biometric access for the public.

Again this allows us to create an explicit location record for any individual, and it also makes detainment easy. If necessary, the police could override the system and have your driverless car come straight into the police station (with you in it).


What I have just described is a city with insanely good security. It's also cheap because it's directly rooted into the architecture of civil operations, and it's mostly just software.

One of the good things with security like this, is you can get rid of the police state feel that you might otherwise get with conventional policing. The image of some kind of Mr gestapo standing at the door holding a machine gun is completely eliminated. Police will be almost entirely invisible to the general public, mostly just dealing with domestic problems.

Rather than creating an atmosphere of authoritarianism, you create an atmosphere of trust as it becomes almost impossible for people to commit violent or serious crimes and get away with it, as the suspect lists can almost always be rapidly reduced to just a handful of people. Hence, only crazy or unusually foolish people will even try to steal and kill, etc (again this excludes the domestic world, which is where our most serious crimes really occur, in the industrialised world).

So does all this look Orwellian to you? Take your mind out of the movies, please! Technology will not increase the risk of us developing some form of tyrannical government. Indeed, if your government wants to be tyrannical, insofar as it can, then it can do so with our without advanced technology (they used to do it with just swords!). For a tyranny it's the legal infrastructure that counts - not the technological infrastructure. Reliable resistance to tyranny requires public education, good child care (no madmen, please), and political decentralisation. It does not require that we unnecessarily compromise policing and general security.

So what I am describing is nothing more than a system that allows our police to do their job, and with amazing efficiency. Your privacy would only be invaded if it needs to be, like it is today when the police obtain a search warrant. And note that the ability to prove innocence is of course the best protection against false accusations, which all of us can be vulnerable to.

And again, it can't be under-stressed that the deterrent value is enormous. The best police force is the one that hardly needs to be used.

So why don't we have these systems in place now, now that we have the opportunity to build them? Because it's only *just* now that we have in fact got the opportunity. Very soon I predict, we will see governments and the private sector making moves in this direction. And it will be a saviour for countries like South Africa especially, that are being devastated by a gross lack of civil control.

Addition: 09-05-17:

I will also make a note on security cameras, using modern technology.

Your face is a biometric object, and modern computers can identify you with a face scan, if you are on record. The problem is, security cameras generally lack the definition to see your face at a distance.

This can easily change if we used compound cameras. In other words, one camera for a broad view, and another camera which acts with a small telescopic lens that targets your face, and finally imposes a high-definition image on the low-definition image - giving relevant definition with minimal information.

None of this should be difficult or expensive. It gives us the opportunity for excellent security which is especially relevant for countries dealing with serious civil unrest. Indeed, if you had all citizens faces scanned and on record, so you can know who the bad guys are (such as Isis and their friends), then a domestic enemy could be automatically identified and neutralised without any human intervention at all. The ultimate in surgical warfare. And that 'neutralization' could be as simple and efficient as a pulsed laser to the eyes, instantly leading to permanent blindness. Better than watching peaceful civilians getting butchered by the tens of thousands? I would say so.

Addition: 09-07-17:

Here is another thought, and what I think would be an ideal Police drone. Also ideal as a scout drone, for search and rescue operations.

This is a simple system that achieves efficient hover mode, but also provides a fast and efficient plane format for when moving forward over large distances.

The hover rotors simply stop and line up to the travel direction, when operating in simple forward flight. They will cause minimal drag in this formation.

You don't need the extreme maneuverability of a quad-copter, though you may need to use the forward drive props to assist in stability in hover mode. To this end, they could tilt upwards.

Note, all helicopters are terribly inefficient and slow when it comes to forward flight. This hybrid system eliminates that problem and gives you the best of both worlds - most ideal for a fast and durable police drone.


  1. India is on the ball. The far-reaching value of moving to a biometrically based currency, using phones, is huge. Especially for a massive and growing economy like theirs - where functional trust and accountability will be so important for agglomeration.

  2. China is making some interesting moves as well, on mass facial recognition systems: