MindBullets 20 Years


On the eve of a planned attack in the UK, the notorious terrorist Black Hammer is captured by Smart Dust

Just hours before a planned terrorist attack of monstrous proportions, the elusive Black Hammer, the world’s most wanted terrorist, was captured today at Heathrow Airport.

Black Hammer’s capture is the result of a magnificent collabo-ration between the anti-terrorist forces of four nations and the Big Brother technology of Smart Dust. For nearly two years, Black Hammer has spread violence and fear across the world. The elusive terrorist was finally captured as he attepted to gain entry to the United Kingdom on the eve of a terror attack planned to wreak havoc in the City of London.

At the heart of this success is ‘Smart Dust’ – a technology which has become the indis-pensable tool for all aspects of business, scientific and military processes. Smart Dust minia-turized sensors are the eyes and ears of information gathering. Strewn on the ground, they are so small we don’t even notice them. But they are watching us. Literally thousands of tiny sensors are deployed around the airports, rail stations, cities and offices of the world, and remotely monitor almost every aspect of our lives.

Big Brother may be watching us, but Black Hammer is finally behind bars tonight.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be


Smart Dust is the result of advances in miniaturization, integration and energy management. It is simply a ‘dust’, currently composed of individual remote sensors of cubic centimetre dimensions. It provides airport security with demographic information on the density of different nationalities of people travelling on the same airplane, or congregated within the same space. Smart Dust scans our clothes and shoes to profile their origin, composition and trace elemments, looking for anomalies and comparing it against traveller information from passport and passenger lists. It constantly gathers a vast array of information – passport control, biometric data that reads increased stress levels, face and voice recognition.

Smart dust sensors are unlikely to be reduced below cubic millimetre size. They are not items of nanotechnology, but are sufficiently small, compact and discreet to go unnoticed in everyday life.

The sizing of sensors is dependent upon the efficiency of the individual power source, and the specific role of the sensor. Active sensors place greater demands on power sources than passive sensors.


1999: Macro motes funded

Scientists at University of California (Berkeley) receive funding by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build a series of ‘macro motes’ from off-the-shelf components. These sensors monitor temperature, tilt, vibration and barometric pressure, all packaged in a cubic-inch mote.

2003: Smart Dust used in military

Military Smart Dust changes the face of warfare by almost eliminating the possibility of ambush and surprise attacks. No hostile vehicle, weapon or soldier goes unnoticed by microscopic sensors strewn in their thousands around theatres of operation.

First generation sensor networks are successfully used by petroleum companies such as Shell Oil, to monitor the status of fuel pumps at filling stations.

Retailers begin trialing the use of radio frequency ID tags (RFID), a development of the barcode. RFID tags are placed upon every item in a warehouse or retail store and respond instantly to interrogation by a radio transmitter. Inventory management and stocktaking are no longer labor-intensive tasks. Current RFID tags are not yet cheap enough to go unnoticed by the accounts department, nor so inconspicuous as to go unseen by the customer.

A standard operating system emerges for Smart Dust sensor network, known as TinyOS. Developed by scientists at Berkeley, this open-source operating system works on fewer than 8kb of memory, and demonstrates great flexibility.

TinyOS is used by West Coast-based Crossbow Technology Inc, to control the sensor networks that track car parts.

2004: Micro motes monitor temperatures

Micro motes are used by York International Group, a world leading ventilation management company, to monitor temperatures in the air-conditioning systems of hundreds of commercial clients. Networks of thousands of sensors scan variations in temperature, easing the load on maintenance operatives, increasing productivity by 15%.

2005: Further military advances

Military enthusiasm for Smart Dust sensor networks has prompted the production and deployment of cubic-millimeter sensors on the battlefield. Up to 20 sensors are air-dropped in robust containers over hostile forces, to jettison their cargo of virtually undetectable motes amongst vehicles and personnel. Individual sensors establish wireless connections amongst themselves, and relay information to planes overhead.

2008: Micro sensors everywhere

Individual micro sensors are manufactured in billions, none larger than a grain of sand.

A legal precedent is set in the US when Smart Dust information is used to show evidence in a high-profile divorce case.

Energy management technology has facilitated the reduction in unit size, with real ramifications for a global ‘Big Brother’ culture.

Pressure groups demand immunity from constant surveillance by Smart Dust. All human activity is monitored. Our houses and offices are aware of our presence and adjust heating and lighting to our personal preference. We are notified of dramatic changes in our child’s sleep patterns, or alerted if he gets into difficulties in the swimming pool. We are warned of the imminent faults in electrical goods and informed of the car parking space closest to our destination. Even the contents of our fridges are scrutinized – that dubious-looking bottle of milk will inform you via your cellphone of its impending expiry date.

Smart Dust is omni-present. Where can we ever go to be alone now? And whoever will be short of a service opportunity?

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.