back to article Futurologist defends 'malevolent dust' warning

A futurologist has defended his controversial warning that "smart dust" is liable to become a future information stealing threat. Ian Pearson outlined the supposed threat in a recent study Life and How We’ll Live It Futurizon report, commissioned by IT giant Fujitsu. "Tiny specks of smart dust dropped through ventilation …


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  1. Ru
    Black Helicopters

    Futurologist? Summariser, perhaps.

    Offhand, I can't think of two books I've read in the not too distant past, Diamond Age and The Algebraist, which already suggested this topic taken to the next level with motile devices. Smart dust and distributed sensor networks themselves aren't new ideas either.

    Quite frankly, if you're not already using TEMPEST rated approaches to security your systems, why on earth should potential future eavesdropping systems bother you when proven and available systems today could steal anything you might have?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sounds like he's been snorting some sort of "dust" up his nose....

  3. Rob Crawford

    Well he would say that

    If all else fails I suppose he could move into the alternative medicine market, they don't have to back their thought up with anything vaguely like reality either.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This 85% success rate he's claiming

    where's the evidence?

    That's before we start bringing statistics into the game. For instance, I predict that the sun will rise every morning for the next thousand days, and also that Godzilla will rise from the deep and lay waste to Finland. 99.999% accurate predicting, right there.

    1. Pete 2


      it's 1000 successes from 1001 predictions - that's *only* 99.9%

    2. Steven Cuthbertson

      It must be the monster...

      who screwed the calculation. It's 99.9001% (1000/1001 * 100)

      Still pretty good though. Better than 85% and no evidence.

  5. Captain Underpants
    Thumb Down

    That quote doesn't make him sound like much of an engineer...

    "Although I use the slightly wacky sounding title of futurologist, I’m just an engineer making logical deductions for tomorrow based on things we can already see happening," he explains. "For example, if someone is investing heavily in a particular development, and there aren’t any obvious barriers to success, there is a good chance that they will succeed in due course."

    What about the non-obvious barriers that come up whenever people are developing products based on new research rather than simple iterations of existing technology? Oh, wait, that's not relevant here. I mean, there are all sorts of dust-based products available today, aren't there?

    Is this guy from the same school of publicity as Kevin Warwick?

  6. James Grant


    I think the author was too dismissive of this idea. Ian Pearson just seems to be taking what's possible now and extrapolating based on past improvements. Also, invention involves trying a lot of ideas that don't pan out so you can be sure people will try doing this. Lastly, invention is all about making progress. You can't undiscover something but if you try, you will make improvements.

  7. David Simpson 1
    Thumb Down

    Oh Dear!

    It's funny how nobody listens to the mentally ill people shouting this nonsense in the street, yet big corporations pay this idiot to day dream what we should all be scared of tomorrow.

    His smart dust won't work because my future air con will have genetically enhanced beetles that eat dust then automatically wrap and post their crap back to this guy.

    1. ravenviz

      predator and prey

      I believe the prey must respond to the predator, there will be protection methods eventually but not until some use has been extracted from this technology. It may be as well always to build in protection based on any 'crackpot' idea to actually prevent it ever being developed.

  8. Paul McClure
    Black Helicopters

    future tech

    I'm sure that future tech will take some effort to design and build. Cell phone tech has a signature and counters, jamming, exist to restrict. Future tech will have signatures and counters would be available for those who care about such things.

    The impression that future tech will operate free of counters or awareness by the victims is true but will pass as media exposes capabilities. Just as bot nets, worms/viruses, etc. catch somebody before they are eventually shut down future tech will do the same. It's not permanent.

  9. Simpson

    Look at me, I'm a Commentologist

    Rule 1. You are not allowed to pick your own nickname.

    Rule 2. Adding "ist" or "ologist" to some random word, does not create a profession.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    His site is so futurish

    I can tell, in a few years everyone will have websites lilke that.

    BS bingo anyone?

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Just looked at it

      and I see what you mean. The man has an uncanny ability to predict 1995 Though for some reason he failed to foresee the flashing GIF.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Don't give the clown any more press.

    "Pearson has been involved in futurology for almost 20 years and claims to have been the first to come up with the idea of text messaging, a concept dismissed by engineers when he first suggested it."

    He's fibbing. I was using "talk" in the 1970s ... and trust me, he had nothing to do with it.

    "Perhaps the same might be true of smart dust."

    No. Nanobots & the like have been part of science fiction since the sixties[1]. Maybe earlier. This clown (who can't even design a web page, nor format text for readability, apparently) is a charlatan. At best.

    [1] See: Stanislaw Lem's "The Invincible", from 1964 for a start ...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    he's so overcomplicating the atack vectors

    Why use so called smart dust "nanites" to attack a system via ventalation when your attacking a dynamic huge variable such as evolving IT systems. the rate of evolution of humans is alot lower and as such less dynamic and as such alot harder to augmentaly harden. SO why use smart dust on computer systems when the weakest link of data/information is the humans. indeed the whole aspect of a modified flu virus that can be used to effectively steal biometric data via extracting and incorperating DNA of the hosts there attacking is far more viable form of attacks. But when you can make keys and finger prints via a good resolution picture with a known object to deduce exact scale is already with us now. Indeed some virus's (biological) can already extract DNA from the host. Nature already has the tools to do whats realy needed.

    Besides, isn't it always easier to shout than to listern and as such easier to influence data than to read it. But like working out were somebody is tickerlish without actualy tickerling them; If you could influence and as such control were they were tickerlish without tickerling them, then you can see how things work easiest. Indeed marketing of a product can take two forms. they can listern to the target audience and work around them or they can dictate to them in a way that they believe you actualy listerned too them. All Apples and Oranges (oh that works on so many levels if you factor orange in the early days when they did listern :).

    But seriously - intellegent dust. If I had access to there aircon I'd sure as hell have access to there backup lines using old redundant encyrption and some battery acid to laiden there main comm's junction box into fail over. All doable without getting as close as you would with putting dust into a aircon intake that will have many filters. Nuff alergy people out there without there being people who have alergic reactions to magic dust.

    Though if this does ever happen, there will be a nice niche role for hayfever and other hyper-alergic type people to act as securty alert systems. "Jason just sneazed - quick were under attack" :).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not so far fetched, given larger scale networks are already here.

      It may not be practical for a person to penetrate some outside security, or be possible to intercept data at external nodes, but it maybe practical for a small animal, insect, or a small/tiny robot to carry a payload of these devices, to be released at an opportune moment inside a facility. Just think about how easily flies and other small creatures get into building etc., what if they also carried and released payloads once inside.

      What if the smart dust transport could detect promising EM radiation sources and scatter smart dust only over the target area.

  13. Pete 2

    If he was any good at predicting the future

    ... he'd have expected all this criticism and responded to it in the original article.

    He would also realise that every measure has a countermeasure (and every countermeasure, a counter-countermeasure). So just coming up with some cheap and scary headline is worthless. If his guess, sorry forecast comes true I predict an increase in the sale of vacuum cleaners and a resurgence in the careers of Kim and Aggie.

  14. Lou Gosselin

    Text messaging.

    "Pearson has been involved in futurology for almost 20 years and claims to have been the first to come up with the idea of text messaging, a concept dismissed by engineers when he first suggested it."

    The FCC approved one way pagers in the late 1950s.

    I kinda doubt he was the first to come up with the "idea" of two way mobile text messaging in 1990s. I'll be nice though and give him credit for predicting it's upcoming popularity.

  15. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Why the grief?

    ev Seriously, why is everyone giving him so much grief? First off, there has been intelligent dust in at least some sci fi since at least the 1960s. Just aying..

    But, to those that say this is absurd, I thik that is absurd. I'm not saying there WILL be intelligent dust, but look at what exists now.

    1) Research into nanomotors. This part's been done already in the lab, so the intelligent dust can maneuver to some extent in the airstream, or perhaps anchor itself to surfaces to some extent.

    2) Distributed sensor networks. These will self-organize into a network to pass data around (so if there's a "line" of them going out the vent to the outdoors for instanfe the data will make it out). There are two parallel paths on this -- the physical, and the software. Physically, these are down ot the size of a pebble, and this is at a university, not using some very low nanometer scale process like AMD or Intel use for instance. In the software terms, research is being done into having these very low processing power, low memory, and so on, devices be able to combine resources to some extent so the total is much more than the sum of it's parts.

    3) Quite simply, Moore's law hasn't died out yet.

    4) There's also research into high density power storage, and new methods to collect power, and improvements to current methods to increase efficiency.

    Will intelligent dust exist in the future? I won't say yes. But these people who make it sound ridiculous, I just don't buy that either given easy extrapolations of current technology.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Well duh

      Because nobody likes a liar caught in his own fibbing.

      When you make claims based on technology, they had better be true, and his claim of having the idea of text messaging that nobody was interested in is a blatant lie.

      And claiming easy success rates without proof is not doing his image any good either.

  16. MonkeyBot


    A futurologist is just a sci-fi author who can't do dialogue or plot.

    1. Mike Richards


      Russell T Davies is a futurologist???

  17. rahul

    This is real technology, people...

    ... stop ridiculing it.

    We are already under attack, but in our complacency, we do not know it.

    Here's the proof:

    Shaking out the dust nanites from my coat before clicking submit...

  18. Cunningly Linguistic
    Paris Hilton


    Could it be that Dyson are poised to get into the computer security business?

    PH for all the obvious sucking jokes.

  19. David McMahon

    So when he worked at BT..

    He didnt predict the need for people in the country side to want to watch Youtube?

  20. Rattus Rattus

    I like to read Sci-Fi, and can remember what I've read -

    How do I get a job as a futurologist?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge


      Just start posting bullcrap all over the place and the morons will start to believe in you.

  21. Marc 25

    does he have shares in Tin Foil?

    if i cover everything in Tin Foil will that stop the dust from eavesdropping in on my browsing habits!?

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. fch

      and another ...

      For a wonderful case of non-intelligent nano-stuff (vs. non-intelligent non-nano stuff like the futurologist), Stanislaw Lem's "The Invincible" comes to mind. Refreshingly different sci-fi, and no the goo is anything but an easy target there.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Anonymous Coward


    I bet he's sponsored by Dyson!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  25. Astarte

    Smart Dust

    1996 Arthur C Clarke and Mike McQuay: Richter 10

    Smart dust played a significant part in the espionage activities employed during earthquake research. Good read, weak ending but still a good read. Earthquakes, Tsunamis et al.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Oh wow

    Hey, that's like what Warren Ellis wrote in Transmetropolitan, "source gas"!

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Hey look at me.... the future, I predict, that we will be driving atomic flying cars.

    See no-one else has thought of that one!

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