The Oxford Dictionary defines trust primarily as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Brief history of trust
When you really think about it, society could not function or expand without trust. Every day before you get into your car for your daily commute, you effectively trust it to start and deliver you safely to your office.
At the office, for the most part, you trust that no marauding tribe of bandits or vandals will come thrashing through the building with swords drawn severing your co-workers heads from their bodies. Yet, within written history, this was indeed a real concern for many (just ask your local feudal lord). In those times, being delivered safely to one's destination and being safe from bandits and vandals was not a normal reality.
Most people reading this article were taught early on that evolution for them was school, good grades, engineering college (again good grades), stable and rewarding career, peaceful and happy retirement. We trusted in that scenario and most of us are living it. Two hundred years ago, there was no such thing as an Engineering Degree from college. Two thousand years ago, there were very few stable careers. And 20,000 years ago, peaceful and happy retirement was almost non-existent for all humans on the planet -- just surviving to age 30 was a major achievement!
So, what has changed and why do we have more trust in our daily lives versus what written history tells us of our ancestors? Only through society’s evolution, both socially and technologically, have we been able to rely or trust in our future. The societal part literally took thousands of years of evolution to achieve the trust we have today. At the core are laws and ethics, which humans collectively developed. Concepts of natural rights and economic theories targeted towards abundance have helped us significantly in this quest. Technologically, we have advanced at an unprecedented rate in the last 100 years. This is the second half of the trust story. And, it shows the seeds of even more promise. But, there are also hints of trouble brewing on the other side of the technological horizon.
Rise of the machines
Trust but Verify
Humans have trust-identification mechanisms for each other, but how does this
work with our increasingly ubiquitous and complex network of smart electronics?
The first signs of trouble come in the form of overwhelming numbers. In 2008, a quite un-celebrated moment occurred -- there were as many interconnected devices on the planet as humans. It is predicted that by 2020 (less than 10 years from now), humans will be outnumbered 6 to 1 by “smart” interconnected devices.
The next noteworthy prediction is a piece of Kurzweil’s Singularity Theory... namely, the exponential growth of computational power fueled by Moore’s Law. Whether you subscribe to the full theory of computational power exceeding that of a human brain or not, it's hard arguing with the dramatic growth of computing capabilities.
The logical conclusion is that at a minimum, humans are going to become even more reliant on these devices. And, at the maximum, they will be relied upon to actually “think” and plan for us. This is the essence of the critical meaning of “Trusted Device.” Given today’s world of malware, viruses, trojans, botnets, cyberattacks, piracy, and counterfeiting, imagine a future where the devices can self-replicate and improve on all these maligned capabilities.
The Reality of today: Untrusted devices
Part of what attracts us as engineers is designing tomorrow devices. Imagining the future is something all engineers and technologist enjoy doing to some degree. But, we are becoming more and more reliant on devices and technology to actually engineer tomorrow’s products. And many of these are simply untrusted. In terms of defining an untrusted device, suffice it to say the device has not been authenticated effectively. Just looking at the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scenario for most major enterprises today can highlight the alarm bells that are ringing. Quoting Bruce Schneier from RSA this year:
More and more companies now have to get used to the fact that people are going to come in with the technologies they want and that is what they are going to use. So we are going to see a lot more security around connecting random untrusted devices into a trusted network.
Given the current state of today's untrusted electronic world, what's to be done to improve this situation? Some of the answers to this question include new technologies that are showing promise in the quest for a more trusted future.
Eric Sivertson is president of QuantumTrace, LLC, San Jose, Calif., which focuses on providing innovative Trusted solutions to meet the development needs of the new generation of computing, communications, and embedded systems.