Developments in science and technology can be used for harmful purposes; computer hackers can cause widespread disruption, while bioterrorists could release a deadly virus into the population. The aim of the EU-funded project FESTOS (Foresight of evolving security threats posed by emerging technologies) was to identify and assess security threats posed by the abuse of emerging technologies and propose ways of addressing these threats. Project members carried out horizon scanning activities to pick up emerging trends and new drivers of change in the next two decades. They focused on 80 technologies from the fields of robotics, ICT, new materials, nanotechnologies and biotechnologies. Additionally, the researchers conducted interviews with stakeholders from counterterrorism bodies, police and homeland security. This analysis was complemented by a global expert survey that uncovered insights regarding the risk and severity of abuse of given technologies. FESTOS identified three broad categories of potential threat: malicious disruption (i.e. communication jamming); easier access to technologies once reserved for the likes of the military or authorities (i.e. signal interceptors); and misuse of technologies designed for good purposes (i.e. toy robots). Elsewhere, the FESTOS project embarked on discussions with stakeholders about how to prevent knowledge falling into the wrong hands. This controversial issue involves a trade-off between security, human rights and the freedom to create knowledge. Policy guidelines and recommendations were developed to raise awareness among decision-makers as well as knowledge creation of future threats emerging from new technologies. FESTOS findings revealed threats that are more likely than others and categorised threats according to the severity of their expected effects if actualised. The analysis also pinpointed threats with low likelihood but high severity. Dissemination of the final results took place at a workshop in Brussels, Belgium where results were presented in order to obtain feedback and recommendations. The study can be useful to policymakers’ preparedness for future possible threats stemming from emerging technologies, and may also help improve European security research cooperation.
Security risks, emerging technologies, FESTOS, communication jamming, signal interceptors, toy robots