Can Virtual Reality Make You More Secure under Terror Attack?

Terrorism has been terrifying. 9/11 attack in New York USA killed 2996 people, train bomb in Madrid Spain killed 191 in 2004, and Russia school attack killed 385 in the same year, July 7 2005 attack killed 56 in London, UK, 2015 attack killed 137 in Paris France, and 87 in Nice this year. The Christmas Market bomb in Berlin Germany killed at least 12.

Source: Terrorist incidents worldwide, Wikipedia

If you look at the statistics over the past 50 years, the casualty of terror attacks has climbed to 40 thousands a year. Shockingly, in these accidents victims concentrate in the capital cities, where security measures were taken for granted!

Virtual Reality empowered by 5G Network

In the era of Internet and and wide-spread uses of broadband, do we really need to risk our lives to "be there"?  Facilitated by high-speed internet, virtual reality (VR) renders something even more "realistic" than the reality. With VR, you can experience something you couldn't in reality, such as be the Gladiator in Rome. So, you could enjoy traveling experiences without travels. VR is not a new technology, many major technology companies have bet on it these years and some predicted that 2016 would be the "Year of Virtual Reality". Variants like Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality have also been proposed. Venture capitals have invested billions of dollars on conceptual products from Magic Leap, while Oculus Rift from Facebook, Google Glasses, Microsoft HoloLens, have been realised products as VR market leaders. VR technologies have been extremely helpful in areas such as Remote Surgery and Distance Education. In terms of telecommunications, 5G technology aims at "tactile internet", to enable real-time communications among Internet of Things, so that a continuous gesture could be replayed in another continent without a 50ms delay caused by the speed of light. It relies on the client side to predict the next movement on the basis of data received previously in a buffer. This can be achieved for time series data in predicting airplane trajectories in real-time.

Is VR secure?

Coming back to our social problem: can VR solve terrorism by bringing security to people through virtual tourism? For example, Google Arts & Culture is a mobile app for you to experience VR using the Cardboard.

Although attractive, there may be two profound factors to consider. 

First of all, terrorists can promote their capability through training using the VR. According to the investigation of 9/11 hijackers, they trained themselves the skills, through flight simulators, to pilot the hijacked planes into the Twin towers. With VR, many attack strategies could be simulated without risking their lives. In the area of security, defender and offenders are essentially playing the "cat and mouse" game, in which the upper hand is on the side with deeper knowledge. Technology can be used by defenders, as well by offenders. For individual citizens, however, virtual tourism could indeed reduce the risk of exposure to such attacks. 

Secondly, networking amplifies VR's capability. Once connected, network attackers could gain control over your device to achieve something never imaginable. Several Hollywood blockbusters such as Matrix, Source Code, Avatar, have allowed us to have a feel about the potential harm of VR through special effects. With the recent achievement of AI and deep learning, it is imaginable that a "singularity" in which one could no longer tell the difference between Human and Machine, or between Reality and Virtuality, will be realised, eventually.

Security arguments need to be with us

Globalisation makes the World a connected village through Internet and the Internet of Things. Invisible terror attacks have become the risks to our society. It may not sound as loud as the timed bombs in a market full of people, but it may cause a harm much harder to assess. An argument for security risks is to be made, for better or for worse! A research project to assess these risks for our society is extremely timely. 

Happy Holidays, for virtual and for real happiness!

Chinese translation

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