Singularity University and the Security Global Grand Challenge

Darlene Damm
Nov 28, 2019

Security is one of our global grand challenges at Singularity University. In particular, we are striving to create a world of the safety of all people from physical and psychological harm, including in virtual worlds; and protection of physical, financial, and digital systems.The security global grand challenge is closely linked to the rise of digital and exponential technologies. As we digitized different industries across our society—from finance to energy to transport to governance and more—we have also had to come up with new ways to protect these digital systems. This initially gave rise to the field of cybersecurity and now requires that all industries prioritize their digital security.In addition, exponential technologies have impacted the security challenge in another key way. While in the past only a few governments or large companies had access to technologies that could potentially be dangerous, today, almost anyone can access extremely powerful technologies at a low cost that can impact millions or billions of people. While this has given billions of more people the power to solve their own problems and innovate solutions for themselves and one another, it has also given nefarious players the opportunity to create havoc at scale. Computer viruses were one of the first and earliest examples of this phenomenon; today, we face the a number of new threats, including the proliferation of 3D printed guns, ghost guns and weapons, genetically engineered biological viruses, fake news and weaponized propaganda, online hate groups, digitally-powered human trafficking rings, dark web black markets, and more.

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Our Faculty and Experts are solving the security global grand challenge

One of the first people who helped me understand the security global grand challenge was Marc Goodman, who wrote the book Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World in 2015. Future Crimes is a comprehensive overview of exponential technologies and the security challenge which outlines both new threats as well as possible solutions, and I highly recommend it.Over the years, we have since added a wide range of faculty covering different aspects of the security challenge. Jaya Baloo focuses on cybersecurity and quantum computing, as well as the implications of security in a hyperconnected world. Neil Desai focuses on security and governance—in particular, the future of policing and national security, and cyber-investigations. Keren Elazari broadly covers cybersecurity with a focus on hacking and hacktivism, the role of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, biohacking, female hackers and diversity, and cybersecurity. Nathaniel Gleicher focuses on domestic and international cybercrime. Dr. Melanie Rieback focuses on cybersecurity, ethics, and entrepreneurship. She is also CEO and Co-founder of Radically Open Security, the world’s first non-profit computer security consultancy company. The organization gives 90% of profits to charity; releases all of its tools as open-source; invites customers to actively participate; and generally optimizes for openness, transparency, and community service. Mandy Simpson covers information security, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and how we can tackle cybercrime. Brian Ferguson, speaking from his background in global security and special operations, focuses on optimizing human potential and teams in addressing security challenges.Over the years, we have also had a number of speakers address the security challenge at our Global Startup Program (formerly Global Solutions Program.) For example, Oren Yakobovich, the founder of Videre, outlined how oppressed and hard-to-reach communities can use cameras and other technologies to document human rights abuses. Pernille Ironside, who was chief of UNICEF’s Gaza field office at the time, discussed how technology could assist in emergency response efforts and support migrants. Hasina Kharbhih shared opportunities for solving problems in human trafficking based on her work successfully addressing human trafficking challenges on the border of Northeast India. We have also run some of the first programming on how humanitarians were using virtual reality to spread empathy and reduce conflict featuring such innovators as Gabo Arora from the United Nations and Reuben Steains from Amnesty International.

Our community and startups

In the past decade, Singularity University has partnered with external organizations to solve the security challenges as well as supported innovators through our SU Ventures program. In 2017, I had the chance to collaborate with N Square, an organization created by five of the largest peace and security funders in the United States, to encourage innovation and open collaboration in solving nuclear threats. We mapped out how new exponential technologies could both increase or reduce nuclear threats, generated awareness about how exponential technologies could impact the field, and envisioned potential solutions. Today, N Square leads a dynamic innovators network of fellows working on breakthrough approaches to reduce threats from nuclear weapons including open intelligence platforms, new systems using blockchain, artificial intelligence, satellite imagery, and machine learning to verify arms control agreements, and technology to increase awareness of the challenge among the public.In addition to N Square, our SU Portfolio companies are also making progress. Hala System, the winner of our 2017 Global Grand Challenges Award, combines data from acoustic sensors, social media, and other sources to warn civilians of airstrikes. Using machine learning and predictive technology, the company has been able to reduce casualties by 20-30% and has provided warnings to more than two million people. In addition, the company has disseminated more than 250 reports on aircraft activity and ceasefire violations to governments, NGOs, and the United Nations since 2017.Another SU Portfolio company, Radiomaze, works on the security challenge at the personal level. Its technology turns people’s existing Wi-Fi networks into motion sensors and alerts them if motion is detected.

Looking forward

While it is extremely important to continue developing new solutions to solve the security global grand challenge, I believe it is also important for everyone to better understand the security challenge and what it means for each of us personally.Exponential technologies have played a profound role in shifting power over the last decade, especially in allowing individuals or a small group of people to scale beneficial ideas, products, or services to millions if not billions of people. At the same time, it means that we must recognize the power each of us now has and now must take responsibility for in new ways.As innovators, we must think through the long-term unintended consequences of our innovations. As policymakers, we must ask how we govern in a world where individuals are increasingly more and more powerful. Parents and adults must understand that youth now have access to powerful technologies at increasingly young ages and must be taught how to responsibly wield this power at a young age. Those of us who do not consider ourselves technologists now must educate ourselves about technology because it is a growing part of our daily lives. Ultimately, as technology increases in sophistication, so must we.