The impact of technology

New technology, new risks

Technology is probably the biggest driver of future change. We are entering a period that has been described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, an era in which exponential growth in data, sensing technologies, cyber-physical systems and analytic techniques will blur boundaries between the physical and digital world, and create hyper-connectivity.


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The impact of technology

New technologies will have a broad impact on our lives in general but they also have both crime prevention and crime promoting potential – and it will be the police, policymakers, and businesses who determine who stays ahead in the crime ‘arm’s race’. To take one example, consider the potential criminal exploitation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for:

  • Identity forgery: AI methods can generate speech in a target’s voice given a sample and couple it with synthesized video of them speaking. This might then be used to commit fraud, or incite hate crime. 
  • AI snooping: Phones, PCs, TVs and Home Hubs provide the sensors for audio snooping inside homes, while drones provide video surveillance opportunities in public spaces. Speech Recognition can sift the resulting data for exploitable fragments (e.g. passwords or bank details, affairs being admitted to). 
  • Driverless weapons: The driverless truck is close to the ideal urban attack robot for terrorists. GPS guidance could bring it to target, and Machine Vision could target pedestrians. 

These crimes can be partially ‘designed out’, building on what we have learned about how to do this effectively over recent history. Yet the accelerating pace of technological and social change places a new emphasis on the speed of reaction. And the break-down of the boundaries between our physical and virtual world, and public and private spheres creates greater levels of systemic risk.

In terms of technology as a tool for safety, there are boundless opportunities that some police forces and businesses are already starting to exploit. Taking AI as an example, work is already underway to create new tools for encryption and cyber-security, better ways of identifying and measuring risk, and labour-saving information processing. As one chief constable told us “AI is the only way that forces will be able to deal with the volumes of evidence currently produced. The level of disruption will be huge, not just in policing but across legal professions.”

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