“Prediction is very difficult,” physicist Niels Bohr once said, “especially about the future.”
But during his talk at Black Hat USA “ The Epocholypse 2038: What’s in Store for the Next 20 Years,” Mikko Hypponen — F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer — made a couple of predictions that will almost certainly come true.
First of all, you’re going to have to wait a few years, or maybe even a couple of decades, before you make any digital appointments in the year 2039.
“Try changing your phone’s calendar to 2039,” Mikko said. “You can’t.”
That’s because the “Unix epoch” ends on January 19, 2038 and for many digital systems to continue operating will require massive recoding on the scale of what we saw around the Y2K bug. If this doesn’t happen, many aspects of our daily life could go haywire.
“Banks may not be able to dispense money or make transactions,” Mikko said. “Cellphones may not be able to make calls. Your home alarm system may go nuts, or may not be able to tell if an intruder has broken in. GPS-based navigation systems, such as on aircraft, may not be able to tell GPS receivers where they are.”
A seemingly trivial decision made by programmers in 1969 could wreck havoc 69 years later, which leads to the second prediction made that will definitely come true.
“Mark my words: even though 2038 is still way, way in the future, I will guarantee you: we will have problems,” Mikko said.
Here are five predictions Mikko offered that aren’t as certain to come true by 2038, but still offer a lot to think about as we contemplate the radical ways digital technology will continue to transform our lives.
1. FUTURE OF THE INTERNET
Apple has already sold close to 1.2 billion iPhones but we’re just at the beginning of the digitalization of the world. Computer chips will be so cheap that manufacturers will install them in almost everything to make them “smart,” Mikko said. Almost everything will be connected to the net, whether we know it or not, to collect data, which could be secondary source of income for many businesses. But Hypponen’s Law says “If something is described to you as ‘smart,’ what you should hear is that it’s ‘vulnerable,'” which means as we become more connected, we’ll become more vulnerable.
2. FUTURE OF INTELLIGENCE
Mikko notes smartphone in your pocket is probably 70 times more powerful than the IBM’s Deep Blue, which defeated chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov in 1997. The leaps in artificial intelligence will only increase in the coming decades. Soon computers will be better at programming computers than humans are. Then humans will only maintain control, Mikko said, for “philosophical reasons.”
3. FUTURE OF MONEY
Cryptocurrencies have already help make ransomware a multi-million dollar industry. Blockchain, the technology that’s helping to fuel their rise, will eventually make transporting physical money unnecessary, Mikko predicted.
4. FUTURE OF SECURITY
“Your work is no longer just to secure computers,” Mikko told the security professionals in his audience. “Your work is to secure society.” He also noted that given the speed in which our homes are becoming connected, every individual needs to be aware of her or his home digital security, or the lack thereof. That’s why F-Secure’s SENSE router aims to make homeowners their own CISO, he told CyberScoop in an interview after his presentation.
5. FUTURE OF WAR
Mikko believes that militaries will inevitably employ artificial intelligence in their weaponry. But with the internet blurring into all aspects of our lives, the potential for its use in war becomes even more frightening. Devices could be targeted and forced to fail intentionally. And that’s not all. “You can imagine a conflict when one party of the conflict sets fire to every home in the country that’s on the other side of the conflict,” he said.
With artificial intelligence and digital currencies already transforming our economy, the internet invading everything and autonomous vehicles hitting the road, the future is already happening. So the time to start preparing for 2038 is now.
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