Friday, July 08, 2005

Stopping terrorism and crime - knowledge is the key.

The terrorist events in London yesterday prompt me to introduce general thoughts which have been on my engineering mind for some time. These thoughts will seem radical but they are only ideas for debate.....

Both terrorism and crime generally has in the future the potential to be massively and dramatically reduced by using the latest communications, IT and bio technologies. It may seem potentially intrusive but it's goal would be to make all law abiding innocent people safer. Bio type identity systems - especially if linked to GPS - would have a very powerful influence on detection and safety. Anyone who goes anywhere in public could be detectable and their background accessible to policing authorities. Just think about how difficult it would be to commit and get away with any crime with powerful use of latest technology. The cost would be insignificant compared to the benefits.

The obvious outcry is of course related to infringement of human rights and privacy etc. Suppose somebody has committed a crime in the past or is worried because he/she is of a minority religious or ethnic group - is there likely to be too much intrusiveness etc? I would argue that quite the opposite is the case. People who are known to the police currently tend to be hassled by them simply because the police are genuinely suspicious of repeat crimes. They sometimes need to question them about an incident due to their previous crime history - and very often this is not at all a fair reflection of the person's current good way of life. Latest technology would for instance show that the person was not anywhere near a location of a crime etc. Those of us who never committed a crime may feel that our movements being detectable to police if desired is intrusive. I can understand this, but why worry if you have nothing to hide? Every one of us has video footage taken of us daily in shopping malls and public streets. Is it not more comforting to know that you have the equivalent of a guardian angel on your shoulder?

So I think we should at least consider moving towards the goal that every human be uniquely identifiable by bio-implanted information micro-chips and that their position on the earth and recent precise movement history be recorded. The very important point however is that this information should just be accessible to policing services with the highest levels of security in place. Information should never fall into the wrong hands nor used for marketing or other interest groups.

Can you even imagine how much more efficient policing work would be (not to mention securing convictions in court) with full use of this technology? Terrorism would largely stop in it's tracks, anyone who breaks into your house or commits rape or other crimes is instantly caught. Missing persons are a thing of the past. Speeding and reckless drivers are detected before they cause havoc. Even smaller crimes like stealing handbags or mobile phones etc. are solved immediately - police often have little resources to put much effort currently into such crimes. We might even eventually get back to the days when we could leave our cars and houses unlocked without fear! The technology has also the potential to help detect childhood tendencies to anti-social behaviour or crime and therefore direct educational and psychological services into place before the problem gets worse.

We are not too far from a stage where the technology above can be implemented very effectively. It must be a reliable and mature technology which is not obtrusive for individuals to wear in/on their bodies.

I think it is only a question of whether we want this to happen or not. Does it sound too much like we are creating a police state? We must remember that it is merely tools we are talking about to help detect genuine crime in a democratic state. Police monitoring and ombudsman facilities become important - but the very technology I am proposing facilitates this too. My vote is for introducing it professionally, gradually globally and with full provision for the safety, liberty and democratic rights of every human on the planet.

Hopefully the above is at least worthy of discussion and some conceptual pilot trials. For legal, human rights and to a lesser extent technical reasons it may be up to 50 years before it could be globally employed.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

M50 Dublin completion - at last!

The final part of the M50 Dublin orbital motorway opened a week ago. It covers the section from Sandyford Industrial Estate to the south eastern M11 near Shankill village. All sections of the M50 had their own problems in planning and construction but this final section had massive challenges.

Acquisition of lands proved to be slow and hugely expensive - with owners presumably seeking their lands to be paid for at inflated residential zoning rates. There were spacing and technical routing/interchange challenges in taking the road though built up areas near Sandyford Industrial Estate and also various other special civil engineering challenges.

Then of course the infamous issue of the medieval ruins situated below ground level on the planned Carrickmines interchange of the M50. This saga gets my blood boiling as it caused the most disproportionate delays and wastage of taxpayers money I've ever witnessed for a road construction. Most of us greatly value our medieval history and the State contributed hugely in time and funding to gain the best archeological studies and retrievals from the site. This effort was particularly intensive when you consider that the site was grossly overrated as a "castle" with just traces of stubs of walls remaining. It could be argued that the legal challenges and inordinate time wasting and expenditure were way out of proportion to the value of the site. The motorists of Ireland affected by this section not only struggled through traffic jams for years longer than necessary - but paid dearly in further taxes for the privilege. The forum for challenge and objection was stretched beyond any reasonable democratic process.

I do detect that lessons have been learned from the M50 construction - in all the areas above and more. For the benefit of future generations we must learn to manage such projects in a macro teamwork manner and cut down dramatically the time and cost of road construction projects.

In any event it is a time to celebrate. The last section of M50 completion is a culmination of many years of hard work and frustrations by the planners/designers/utilities/contractors. Let us not forget that in addition to the route itself there are many linkage roads which were planned and built well in advance and which came fully into effect with the final motorway completion.