Matt Sollenberger Reports on The Future of Security and Tracking

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Driven by growing consumer demand for security, and enabled by technological advances such as intelligent software, security and tracking offerings could radically expand both their focus and utility, says Social Technologies' futurist Matthew Sollenberger.

The DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies recently released a series of 12 briefs that shed light on the top areas for technology innovation through 2025. The brief on security and tracking, by futurist Matt Sollenberger, is the eleventh trend in the series.

"New security technologies are significantly expanding the breadth and depth of monitoring and tracking possibilities to such a degree that, collectively, they are changing the nature of the security field," Sollenberger explains, noting that traditional security systems--targeted and restricted, and typically human-operated--are giving way to omnipresent, smart, and autonomous security products that could usher in a new era of ambient surveillance.

Drivers of innovation

  •     Risk tolerance. Multiple factors are combining to significantly decrease risk tolerance in World 1, and even World 2. As information access increases, risk tolerance declines. As life becomes more predictable and safer, people become less tolerant of the remaining risk. And, increasing security options actually tend to spur the drive for even more security.
  •     Demographic shifts. On the whole, societies in World 1 are becoming older and producing fewer children, and concern for the safety of the elderly and the young is growing. As families shrink, parents are devoting enormous effort towards safeguarding their kids.
  •     Internet worries. A desire for safety and security also emerges from the challenges of cyber security that concern all users of the Internet and digital points of sale. Rising fears of identity theft (as well as for child safety) are driving consumer demand for more virtual security.
  •     Terrorism fears. Growing terrorism concerns are prompting World 1 societies to devote more resources to border security and monitoring.

State of the art

Security and tracking technology is currently being led by smart software and secure authentication products, from iris and fingerprinting scanners in Iraq to child-monitoring cameras in World 1 playgrounds. Examples of the leading edge in this field include:

  •     Smart cameras. Cameras are being linked to computerized identification and pattern-recognition systems, creating devices that are no longer passive monitors. Instead, these smart cameras are able to monitor movement and activity patterns, and to alert human monitors when unusual behavior is observed.
  •     Basic biometric IDs. This represents a major shift in how consumers confirm their identity. Authentication is moving away from verification based on something you have or know (a key or password) and is moving toward using individual biometric measures--such as the iris, face, fingerprint, and voiceprint--to determine identity. Once restricted to law enforcement and often plagued by errors, these technologies are becoming increasingly accessible to consumers.
  •     RFID tracking. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is beginning to make the transition from logistics tracking to human security applications. Initially used to track pets, it has since been integrated to locate people (mainly children). New microchips, designed for insertion into humans, have already been implanted in hundreds of consumers.

Challenges ahead

Ambient surveillance technology will face significant--though surmountable--obstacles as it begins to develop into a major market presence. These challenges involve technical barriers to security and identification processes, as well as the consumer privacy concerns that increased surveillance inevitably raises. In order for this technology to have significant social and commercial impacts, it will need to overcome a number of issues:

  •     Balancing security and privacy. It is very possible that consumers--particularly in the US--will associate ambient surveillance technology with previous avant-garde security efforts such as the ill-fated (and highly unpopular) Total Information Awareness Project and the associated terrorism futures market, Future MAP. It is also possible that consumers will simply be extremely wary of increased data collection and centralization in general, given the many cases of theft or improper use of data in the past.
  •     Regulatory concerns. What data is collected, how long it is stored, and who has access and ownership--these critical questions will have to be clearly addressed by regulators in order for consumers to accept pervasive security. Companies that traffic in comprehensive data capture already face mounting public scrutiny and calls for oversight.
  •     Accurate identification. For new surveillance, tracking, and access-control technology to work as intended, it is critical that it be able to correctly identify individuals with consistently high accuracy. As things currently stand, all forms of biometric identification have had major vulnerabilities demonstrated: everything from high-definition printouts of eyes to gelatin molds of fingertips have been successfully used to fool biometric scanners.


The evolution of ambient surveillance will change the composition and the capability of security products. In the process, it is likely that several "gamechangers" will emerge--aspects of new technology that will result in significant commercial or social impacts. Examples include: ubiquitous tracking, intelligent surveillance, smart sensor nets, virtual perimeters, and DNA identification.

Learn more
To talk to Matthew Sollenberger about these gamechangers and their relevance to major business sectors, contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' leader of corporate communications: hope.gibbs @

Matthew Sollenberger ) Futurist

Matthew Sollenberger joined the research team at Social Technologies in the spring of 2007. Previously he worked as a research analyst at The Arlington Institute (TAI), a futurist consultancy in Northern Virginia, where he focused on the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning Project for an Asian government, and engaged in Middle Eastern conflict modeling, systems thinking, and morphological analysis. Also at TAI, he co-authored a paper on the implications of wildcards for long-term US national security interests, published in the fall 2006 issue of National Strategy Forum Review. A 2005 graduate of Swarthmore College's political science program--with high honors and a minor in peace and conflict studies--Matthew brings to the job a passion for global issues. While in college, he was a research assistant at the World Policy Institute, working on its Counter-Terrorism Project. Matthew collaborated on a paper, "Prisons and the Education of Terrorists," that was published in the fall 2004 issue of World Policy Journal. Areas of expertise: Foreign policy, Technology

About ) Social Technologies

Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit, our blog:, and our newsletter:


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