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Futures challenge competition: Transport security in 2030

Who are we looking for?

The Royal Society and the Department for Transport are looking for brilliant and innovative minds to help keep transport safe. Whether you’re working on theoretical physics or the development of new technologies we believe your input could be relevant. We are looking for the best ideas, the most innovative solutions, and the most novel insights around potential threats or opportunities. The winner will receive a place on the week long executive programme at Singularity University to continue to gain skills for developing innovation with impact. 

Why transport security? 

As technology evolves society will be met by a number of new opportunities, but also a number of new threats to our security. 

The Royal Society is working with the Department for Transport (DfT) to challenge the UK’s brightest minds to apply their science to the future of transport security: the challenges that may face our transport systems, how these may be addressed, and how to make the best of potential opportunities. 

Entrants must have a PhD or hold a research position at a UK university.

How to take part

We would like you to respond to the  ‘Transport security in 2030‘ scenario below, thinking specifically about how your scientific expertise or research might be used in interesting and novel ways. This should outline opportunities or challenges associated with the world described. How would humanity be safe or less safe within it?

What safeguards could be put in place? Is this a technical solution, a behavioural solution, or both? 

We’re interested in all areas of science - diverse backgrounds and expertise are likely to produce novel ideas. This includes but is not limited to natural and physical sciences, social and behavioural sciences, and technology based opportunities and challenges. You may think the work you do isn’t relevant to transport security, but we’d disagree, we’re looking for things that may not be the usual or haven’t been considered before. Be imaginative and innovative. 

Scenario

The following scenario describes one potential vision of transport security in 2030. It does not set out to reflect on any current issues or threats, or to predict.

Transport Security in 2030 – an imagined future 

Transport security in 2030 is a priority. More passenger screening and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have been introduced at airports, train stations and in major metro stations. Screening and AI technologies work as an integrated whole and are particularly prevalent at airports, with expected roll out to other transport hubs. The public are accepting of the increased wait times for added peace of mind.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in security technologies has been in AI and machine learning. Threat recognition algorithms are increasingly being used as the public accept these technologies. The biggest deployments have been in major transport hubs. However, the quality of the technology experienced in earlier deployments has stopped improving. The AIs are increasingly opaque, there is a lack of engagement in the ethical issues and it is difficult to keep pace with the technology in order to regulate effectively and prevent the deployment of sub-quality AI. Consensus among the public is that low quality AI that makes us safer, is better than no AI. 

The internet of things is also being adapted and adopted in major transport hubs across the UK. London was the first to announce that its rail, underground and bus systems would be connected in a wholly integrated intelligent system; all systems communicating with the others for maximum efficiency. Passengers love the new system, and despite some early teething problems, customer satisfaction is up by 98% and delays are down by a whopping 96%. Other major cities follow suit, and there are plans for a UK wide integrated system. 

With the increase in AI and machine learning technologies, and the increase in transport connectivity, terrorists have begun to try and exploit weaknesses in these systems. One plot was uncovered which attempted to compromise the automatic threat detection algorithms across the entire London Underground network through analysis of common false alarms. With AI systems being essentially black boxes, and with the challenge of upholding quality, the next attempt may be successful. The interfaces between the passenger and the AI are poorly understood and there may be any number of potential attack vectors for an increasingly intelligent terrorist threat. As more systems become integrated, as does the increasing sophistication of these attacks. But the fear of physical terrorist attacks means the public continue to want more threat recognition AI and more integration.

What will you win?

The prize for the winning person will be one week at Singularity University, on their Executive Programme. Find more information on Singularity and the executive programme: https://su.org/programs/executive-program/ 

The prize will also include all travel, accommodation, and subsistence for one person. Team entries are welcome but the prize is for one individual only, and the individual who would be nominated for the prize must be named at the outset. 

Mike Halsall, co-Founder, Grand Challenges UK:

"I am delighted to engage with the Royal Society in continuing innovation challenges to solve hard problems, and the prize of attending Singularity University's executive course in Silicon Valley enables the winner to engage with and learn from California's best and brightest". 

How to apply

Please respond to the scenario with a statement of up to 1,000 words and one (optional) additional media file, be that a video, an image, an animation, or a data visualisation. Provide a link to the file in the space provided. 

This additional file should not be used to include significant supplementary text other than is needed to describe the file, for example as figure labels. If the additional file contains excessive text the entry will be judged on the 1,000 words only.

Entries should be submitted by registering on the Royal Society grants system

Am I eligible to apply?

You can apply for this scheme if you:

  • have a PhD (note we will not consider applicants who have just submitted their PhD)
  • hold a research position at a UK university.

More information about criteria and eligibility can be found in the terms and conditions.