Sunday, May 03, 2009

Science fiction to reality

Well over 30 years ago I read Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? I loved the story and it's one I've returned to many times over the years. So when they announced a movie version of it I knew I had to go. I was a mere 16 when I went to see Bladerunner for the first time, on the back of such films as Star Wars, Close Encounters and Star Trek. I liked the film and have liked/owned every version since (yes, even the "original" with Harrison Ford/Deckard talking over in order to explain the plot). Of course they missed out bits from the book, but it was still a masterpiece.

One of the things I really liked in the movie is when Deckard uses a computer image scanner to look through photographs for signs of the Replicants. But this is no ordinary scanner: it uses data in the image to extrapolate further, uses reflections to look round corners and has incredibly good resolution. I found that idea fascinating and it was a high point for me when I played the Blade Runner game on my PC 10 years later. Over the years photographic resolutions and contrast capabilities have improved and we've all probably heard the debates of whether or not we can read newspapers from orbiting satellites. Not quite what Deckard was able to do, but interesting nonetheless.

However, today en route to Boston for a meeting, I found time to read my monthly dose of Scientific American. In this month's issue (May 2009) they have an interesting article on computer security and specifically how people can steal information from a computer without having direct access to it or the machine being networked at all. Of course they cover the areas known for a while, such as catching RF from screens, but it's the work on viewing screens through reflections off teapots, spoons and even the human eye that made me sit up and think! OK at the moment it requires a lot of time and money to do, but I'm sure it would be worth it for certain secrets. Plus it'll only be a matter of time before the equipment becomes smaller and less expensive.

What can you do about this information leakage? Well as the article says, "privacy filters" can increase the chances of being read in this way and flat-panel displays still emit some information. So curtains or blinds are the best defence at the moment. But I'm not going to worry too much. It was a nice article that brought back memories of a great movie and book.


paulparkinson said...

I do wonder how far along they are on a voigt kampff. I have a few people I'd like to run it on, including myself ;-)

Mark Little said...

Yes, same here ;)